ARIA award-winning singer-songwriter Vance Joy, aka James Keogh, is back in Australia doing what he loves: touring. Since 2019, he has divided his time between Barcelona, where he lives with his girlfriend, Spanish graphic designer Selen Us, and his Northcote rental, where his sister lives while he is away.
It was a European tour with Pink in 2018 that opened his eyes (and stomach) to a whole new world of culinary experiences, and these days he happily trades in his staple of canned cooked beans on stale bread for calcots, a sweet onion best paired with romesco sauce, wine and friends. From behind-the-scenes protein ball and kombucha riders to Keogh haunts in Melbourne and Sydney, food is all about the fun for one of Michael Gudinski’s most successful local Liberation label signings and author of a hit song. Against the current.
“I will always remember an evening with Michael on Flinders Lane at Kisume“, says Keogh.
“We were partying with my label, and Michael took us out to dinner. We had a private room, and he started ordering everyone espresso martinis. I don’t know how it happened, but the next minute , he reached into his cocktail and pulled out the coffee beans and started tossing them into the bowl in the center of the table. He’s a little irreverent and naughty and it was harmless fun, but a memorable evening with good food and nonsense.
Signature and essential dish at home
I’m a fairly inexperienced cook, so I’d say my signature dish is anything I’ve just learned to do with some success. Last week I made my first roast leg of lamb. I used Jamie Oliver’s method of seasoning the lamb with garlic, rosemary and anchovies. For the roast potatoes, I boiled them for 10 minutes, then in the colander I gave them a little shake to scrape them up before putting them in the oven. Any scraped pieces turn golden and crispy. My other favorite dish at home is spaghetti bolognese.
my guilty pleasure
I love anything sweet and creamy, especially cakes. I have a weakness for tiramisu. I would have it delivered during confinement. I was a sweet tooth as a kid and always loved visiting the local milk bar. When I fell off my bike at the age of eight, my dad brought me a vanilla milkshake while I was recovering. I had chipped my front tooth. I still love milkshakes but they’re terrible for singing, so I drink them on holidays. People say dairy can get in the way of a clear vocal sound, but if you’re a rock star, that shouldn’t matter.
Best Kitchen Wisdom
My girlfriend, Selen, told me that if you put an egg in a pot of boiling water and turn off the heat, after five minutes it will be soft-boiled. You then put it in an ice bath so that it doesn’t continue to cook. It’s an infallible method and I stick to it.
My favorite restaurants
My favorite restaurant in Barcelona is a place called North. This is a small, understated restaurant that serves elegant small dishes. They make an amazing tortilla de patatas, which looks like a quiche but much juicier. It’s a famous cultural dish there, and a lot of love and devotion goes into perfecting the recipe. They also make a wonderful salt cod omelet.
In Melbourne, my favorite place is Iroha, a Japanese restaurant around the corner from my home in Northcote. There is a warm and welcoming vibe and the food has a creative twist. Everything on the menu is yum so you can’t miss. Beef tataki is gold. I haven’t been to Japan yet but I imagine some restaurants are exactly like that – they have a unique twist in their dishes. Highly recommend the seared scallops and the chicken karaage is delicious. I ate here when I first moved to the Northcote area at the end of 2018. It was less than 100 yards from my house and it was also great for take-out. They give you bottles of sake in a cute decorative jar with a panda on it. I kept them all because they are really cute.
When I’m in Sydney, I like to go to Nomadic. They have great wood-fired flatbread and their own zaatar. Dear Saint Eloise is great – I had a great dinner there recently. At Jimmy’s Falafel is also super cool, just like drinking a beer at Opera Bar by the Opera.
The group really gets into exercising on the road, and I fall under peer pressure and also do stretches and push-ups. The rider always has some kind of health muesli and kombucha bars. We don’t drink beers every night on the tour, but Peroni is my pick.
A favorite Aussie food moment
My friends and I walked over to Point Leo’s gazebo the morning after a party at my house. The surf club hosted a BBQ and the bacon, spring rolls and coffee were the perfect hangover cure, as was a dip in the water. It’s hard to beat.
What is your favorite gastronomic city and why?
I had a great time in San Sebastian with my girlfriend. We would stroll to a pincho spot, drink a beer or two, then keep riding. After a while it becomes a delicious blur.
I loved discovering Gumusluk, Turkey. There are plenty of restaurants in a row that put their tables in ankle-deep water. The restaurants are lit by lanterns of different colors. It is an incredible dining experience for fresh fish. Every restaurant tries to get you in, but it’s a cool experience and something unlike anything I’ve encountered before.
A favorite culinary moment abroad
On the way back to Barcelona from San Sebastian, we stopped at the Monasterio de Piedra – a very old monastery in the province of Zaragoza. We spent the night there in sparse rooms that looked like they hadn’t changed since they were priests’ quarters. At the restaurant Kings of Aragon, we ate lamb chops with padron peppers. The next day, we walked in the huge natural park surrounding the monastery. The park felt otherworldly and enchanting, with waterfalls and giant transparent pools filled with all manner of fish and massive trout. The monastery and the surrounding park looked like a wonderful secret place that we were lucky enough to discover.
Vance Joy performs at the Sydney Opera House on November 18 and 19 and at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl in Melbourne on November 26. Go to frontiertouring.com/vancejoy