Richard Evans is crawling past Lucio's in a black luxury four-wheel-drive, not for the first time today in his quest for a parking spot among the fine homes of Paddington.
He is not late but clearly not at ease when head waiter Aldo leads him to our table in the back corner of the eponymous restaurant, where classic Italian fare meets fine art.
No sooner do we meet than he is gone, leaving Aldo to fill the void. A bellini? For two.
When Evans returns, I glimpse the man who once told Herald writer Valerie Lawson: ''I like to put people at ease. I move quickly into intimacy.''
The warm smile is there, the hearty laugh, the easy charm. Normal transmission has resumed.
''Once every six weeks I speak to the staff - it's called the CEO forum - and I have just come from there,'' he explains. ''It was a bit emotional. Unsettling.''
More than 200 staff gathered in the Utzon Room for this final address by Evans, 44, who shocked the arts community on January 5 when he announced he was stepping down as chief executive of the Opera House after four years. The forum was recorded so others among his 760-strong staff could watch it online.
''The Opera House is such a family atmosphere. You go through such a lot to give birth to things here,'' he says. ''You grow very attached to people but I said to them today, 'This is business as usual, this is not the farewell'.''
No, that was last night, when Opera House chairman Kim Williams led tributes to the New Zealand-born puppet master who wound up pulling the strings at Australia's most revered building - and will lay claim next month to another national icon when he takes up his post as managing director of BridgeClimb.
''When I was an amateur assistant stage manager at Auckland University, I never could have imagined that you could get paid to work in the arts,'' he says. ''And as time went by I could never have imagined running the Sydney Opera House. Relatively quickly, all of that has happened.''
A doctor's son, he and his only sibling, Peter - who is currently directing the Sydney Theatre Company production of Pygmalion - enjoyed a privileged childhood, rich with international travel and artistic pursuits.
''We were a singing family and I was a boy soprano,'' he says. ''My voice didn't break - it went all the way down to B2 and came back to baritone. Teddy Rhodes and I performed in the national youth choir together but whereas all Ted had to do was open his mouth, I had to work much harder.''
While Teddy Tahu Rhodes went on to become a star, Evans abandoned his dream of becoming an opera singer, flirted with becoming an actor and then took a job as a theatre production assistant.
At 24, he was asked to resuscitate the New Zealand Puppet Theatre. A year later, the Spare Parts Puppet Theatre in Fremantle was his ticket to Australia. The role of general manager of the Deckchair Theatre Company in Fremantle followed.
''I never continued returning to New Zealand,'' he says. ''I wanted to be part of an international world.''
If it was Sydney calling him, Adelaide lured him next, as associate producer of the State Theatre Company. For the first time in his career, and never since, he wasn't the boss.
His longed-for move to Sydney came through the Bell Shakespeare company, which he managed for five years, before The Australian Ballet tempted him as its chief in 2002. After six years, he went from pointe to the Point, as a Herald wit observed at the time, landing the coveted Opera House role.
''I loved working in a company, within a group, travelling around with them. Bell Shakespeare was the start of that. And the Ballet was like running a football team - we had masseurs and physios, travelling all over the world and Australia. It was an amazing, hermetically sealed group of 150 people. But after a while, those single art forms experiences become a bit limiting. It is a case of trying to convince you to come to my artform, at the expense of everything. It is force-feeding - a sort of foie gras approach.
''What I have loved is the pluralism of the Opera House. Whether you are coming for a beer at the Opera Bar, or coming to see opera or to see La Soiree, I don't care.''
It's half an hour into our lunch when he asks: ''Shall we order?'' He opts for oysters, followed by spatchcock and unexpectedly the conversation turns to fennel and we are transported back to the backyard of his university digs, which was overrun with the stuff. ''These days we'd be making it into tea but then it was a fennel forest. A disaster.''
He asks the wine waiter to select a glass of white for each of us then turns his mind to the question of legacy.
''If you live in Sydney, your cultural diet is really dictated to by a small number of people. At the House, we took the view that we were trying to make Sydney a global city and how can we internationalise it. So the international orchestra series was really important. And getting top quality theatre from around the world. And some more edgy, contemporary music.'' How edgy?
''During Vivid Live this year there were people pashing in the foyer. Fantastic. That doesn't happen a lot.''
While the Opera House is ''about high art, it is also a town hall; we were trying to give it back to the people'', he says. ''This summer, for instance, we had the creative play areas in the eastern foyers. Young families could come down, while the parents could just come and hang out.''
He lists his achievements as forming a closer relationship with the six residents companies (The Australian Ballet, Sydney Symphony, Opera Australia, Sydney Theatre Company, Bell Shakespeare and Bangara Dance Theatre); unifying the staff, who work in three locations; bringing new audiences to the precinct.
The Festival of Dangerous Ideas, conceived over a restaurant meal with Dr Simon Longstaff from the St James Ethics Centre, was a ''massive, massive success''. Indeed, he says, the intellectual life is important. Next weekend, Naomi Wolf and Germaine Greer will be talking about new feminism.
While Evans oversaw an upgrade of the environs and a multi-million-dollar project to improve vehicular and pedestrian access, he leaves unresolved the planned renovation of the Opera Theatre.
The view from many seats is obscured, access for the disabled and elderly is inadequate and the cramped orchestra pit risks damaging the hearing of the long suffering musicians. The work is estimated to cost between $700 million and $1 billion. The funding model is unclear. ''Am I sad to be walking away from that? Not really because I am confident it will happen,'' he says. ''My skills are not in managing operationally a large building project for the next 10 years. Perhaps the new person will have those skills.''
As we move to a glass of red I realise Evans is asking more questions than he is answering, so I reach for old faithful: tell me about your children.
''I encourage the young women at the Opera House to have children,'' he says, and soon he is Googling journalist Virginia Trioli, who, at 47, is expecting her first child.
He has two children: a 14-year-old daughter, Matilda Tomasetti, with his ex-wife, photographer Lisa Tomasetti, and a five-month-old son, Arlo, with fiance Vanessa Duscio, the head of public relations at the Opera House with whom he worked at The Australian Ballet.
The couple will take a house in Paris with Arlo for two weeks before Evans launches his ''new adventure'' in the corporate world, where he will not be expected to be ''on 24/7'' and where he admits the ''public outcomes'' of labours will be few.
''Relevance deprivation? I hope so,'' he says with a roar. ''I will be so happy to go to the supermarket and not be cornered by subscribers with their trolleys. I want some evenings at home, to develop fatherhood. Or, it occurs to me, I could do Italian conversation classes every Tuesday night if I wished. That has been impossible for my whole adult life.''
As we rise and prepare to part at the door, Evans leans in and says discreetly: ''Speaking of cricket …'' (as we have been. Rugby, too, of course). I turn to see Richie Benaud dining among a party of six.
The man who knows better than most how to work a room has taken in all he needs to in this one - and with that, he is gone.