December 6, 2023

Food City

The Best Darn Food City Uou Can Get

Singer Vance Joy on his favourite restaurants and food cities (plus his weakness for tiramisu)

Singer Vance Joy, aka James Keogh, divides his time between Barcelona and Melbourne.
Singer Vance Joy, aka James Keogh, divides his time between Barcelona and Melbourne. Photo: Claudia Grosche

 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 belly) to a whole new world of culinary experiences, and these days he’s happily swapping his childhood staple of canned baked beans on stale bread for calcots, a mild onion best paired with romesco sauce, wine and friends. From backstage riders of protein balls and kombucha to Keogh’s favourite haunts in Melbourne and Sydney, food is all about pleasure for one of the late Michael Gudinski’s most successful local Liberation label signings and author of smash-hit song Riptide.

“I will always remember a night out with Michael on Flinders Lane at Kisume,” says Keogh.

James Keogh counts San Sebastian, Spain, and Gumusluk, Turkey, among his favourite food spots.
James Keogh counts San Sebastian, Spain, and Gumusluk, Turkey, among his favourite food spots. Photo: Celina Martins

“We were celebrating with my label, and Michael took us out to dinner. We had a private room and he began 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 throwing them into the bowl in the centre of the table. He’s a bit irreverent and rascal-like and it was harmless fun, but such a memorable night with good food and being silly.” 

Signature dish and your go-to at home

I am quite an inexperienced cook, so I would say that my signature dish is whatever I have just learnt to make with some mild 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 par-boiled them for 10 minutes and then in the strainer I jiggled them around a bit to scuff them up before putting them in the oven. All the scuffed-up bits turn golden and crispy. My other favourite go-to dish at home is spaghetti bolognese.

My guilty pleasure

I love anything that is sweet and creamy, especially cakes. I have a weakness for tiramisu. I would get it delivered during lockdown. I was a sweet tooth as a kid and always loved visiting the local milk bar. When I fell off my bike aged eight, my dad brought me a vanilla milkshake while I was in recovery. I had chipped my front tooth. I still love milkshakes but they are terrible for singing, so I drink them on off days. People say dairy products can get in the way of a clean vocal sound, but if you’re a rock star it shouldn’t matter.

Best kitchen wisdom

My girlfriend, Selen, told me if you pop an egg in a pot of boiling water and turn the heat off, after five minutes it will be soft-boiled. You then put it in an ice bath so it doesn’t continue cooking. This is a foolproof method and I stick by it.


My favourite restaurants

My favourite restaurant in Barcelona is a place called Norte. It’s an understated little restaurant that serves elegant small dishes. They do an incredible tortilla de patatas, which is kind of like a quiche but much juicier. It’s a famous cultural dish over there, and a lot of love and devotion goes into perfecting the recipe. They also do a marvellous salted cod omelette.

In Melbourne, my favourite spot is Iroha, a Japanese restaurant around the corner from where I live in Northcote. There’s a warm welcoming vibe there and the food has a creative flair. Everything on the menu is yum, so you can’t miss. The beef tataki is gold. I haven’t been to Japan yet but I imagine some restaurants are exactly like this – they have a unique twist to their dishes. I highly recommend the seared scallops, and the karaage chicken is delicious. I ate there when I first moved to the Northcote area in late 2018. It was within 100 metres of my home and great for takeaway too. They give you bottles of sake in a lovely decorative jar with a panda on it. I have kept all of them because they’re really cute.

When I’m in Sydney I like to go to Nomad. They have great wood-fired flatbread and their own zaatar. Dear Sainte Eloise is great – I had a very fine dinner there recently. Jimmy’s Falafel is also super-cool, as is having a beer at Opera Bar by the Opera House.

On tour

The band gets really into exercising while on the road, and I fall to that peer pressure and do stretching and push-ups too. The rider always has some kind of health muesli bars and kombucha. We don’t drink beers every night on the tour, but Peroni is my choice.

A favourite Australian food moment

My friends and I wandered down to the kiosk at Point Leo the morning after a party at my place. The surf club had a barbecue pumping and the bacon and egg rolls and coffee were the perfect hangover remedy, as was a dip in the water. That is hard to beat.


What’s your favourite food city and why?

I had some lovely times in San Sebastian with my girlfriend. We would wander into one pincho spot, have a beer or two and then keep rolling. After a while it becomes a delicious blur.

I loved discovering Gumusluk, Turkey. There are lots of restaurants all in a row that put their tables in ankle-deep water. The restaurants are lit up with lanterns in different colours. It’s an amazing dining experience for fresh fish. Every restaurant tries to get you in, but it’s a cool experience, and something unlike anything I have encountered before.

A favourite overseas food moment 

On the way back to Barcelona from San Sebastian we stopped at Monasterio de Piedra – a super old monastery in the province of Zaragoza. We spent the night there in sparse rooms that felt like they hadn’t changed since they were priest quarters. At the restaurant Kings of Aragon, we ate lamb ribs with padron peppers. The next day, we walked around in the huge natural park surrounding the monastery. The park felt otherworldly and enchanting, with waterfalls and giant clear pools filled with all kinds of fish and massive trout. The monastery and the surrounding park felt like a wonderful secret place that we had the luck of discovering.

Vance Joy is playing at the Sydney Opera House on November 18 and 19 and the Sidney Myer Music bowl in Melbourne on November 26. Go to