Cured and Cultured Bar, Bennelong

Luxury without linen: the Cured and Cultured Bar at Bennelong.
Luxury without linen: the Cured and Cultured Bar at Bennelong. Photo: Edwina Pickles

Sydney Opera House, 2A Macquarie Street Sydney, New South Wales 2000

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Opening hours Lunch Fri-Sun noon-2pm; pre-theatre daily 5.30pm and 6pm; dinner daily 6.30pm-10pm
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Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Chef Peter Gilmore
Phone 02 9240 8000

I'd like share a small but very important fact with you: I am obsessed with the Opera House seal. Summer's furriest celebrity was a regular fixture there for a while, all frolicking in the harbour, sunning itself and definitely not giving a damn. Now that's a seal who knows how to live.

Winter sees a new reason to fall in love with the Utzon sails, but it has nothing to do with seafaring mammals and everything to do with chef Peter Gilmore.

Yabby pikelets with lemon jam and clotted cream.
Yabby pikelets with lemon jam and clotted cream. Photo: Brendon Thorne

He's the man behind this three-part odyssey that's commanding the attention of every food-loving fool in the country. But today we're eating at the Cured and Cultured counter. What you're looking at here is full-service lusciousness with a laid-back attitude. It's luxurious, yet accessible. It's the cream and the crunch without the starched linen.

Ever wondered if bare hands ever touch your food in a restaurant kitchen? They do. Regularly. And here they're fearlessly open about it.

Chefs massage, fondle and grope each dish until it's perfect. One chef in the corner stands in front of a pile of Sydney rock oysters, the station dry and pristine. Another painstakingly tweezes, squeezes, and applies tiny flowers to a saltwater chicken salad. Sesame and peanut gives it a bit of a bang-bang chicken vibe, only with thick udon noodles and shavings of silky-soft palm heart.

Prodded to perfection: Sydney rock oysters.
Prodded to perfection: Sydney rock oysters. Photo: Brendon Thorne

But the big tell you're in the right hands is the silence that reigns supreme behind the counter. The rattle and hum of diners is everywhere but inside, the counter chefs work quietly, methodically and elegantly.

Most dishes are prepped in the downstairs kitchen, so this area's more for assembly and beautification. The only smell of cooking is that of olives being gently warmed through.

Methodical, light and gentle are the catch cries here. That applies to everything from the muted, burnished room, offset by the almost brutalist concrete ribs of the 'House to the warm buckwheat pancake, lemon jam, cultured cream that accompanies a plate of yabbies, served in the shell for you to remove as you eat.

Roast carrots are deftly dressed in sticky sherry caramel and tossed with young almonds, feta and amaranth. The dish is finished with in thin shavings of raw heirloom carrot, artfully arranged over the top in a sort of nest thing. "It looks like Krang getting angry at Shredder about something," says my dining pal.

This is probably the only time a dish of Peter Gilmore's has been compared to a Ninja Turtles supervillain. And no, we can't promise it'll be the last.

Pro tip: Arrive in the late afternoon for a natural light show better than any fireworks display.
Try this: Yabby pikelets with lemon jam and clotted cream, served in the shell so you can create your own personal midden.
Like this? Come back again and again - we will. This is a one-of-a-kind experience.