It’s 8pm on a Monday, and Chef Guillermo Galiana is buzzing around his tiny kitchen at La Bicicleta Café in Malasaña. He glances at one of the various bowls on the counter. “It needs something sweet,” he says to himself, and before I can reply, he’s drizzled agave over the bowl, stirred the mixture, and set the dish aside. Simple. Guests will be arriving soon, but there’s not a hint of stress on Guillermo’s face as he breezes through his preparations. No recipes, just vision, and it’s this clear-eyed innovation that makes Tasty Mondays at La Bicicleta one of the most exciting things to do in Madrid.
The Best Kind of Mondays
Tasty Mondays are the brain-child of Guillermo Galiana, La Bicicleta’s resident chef. Born out of Guillermo’s desire for a creative culinary outlet, Tasty Mondays are five-course group dinners with handcrafted menus that he devises, cooks, and personally serves each week. Over laughs and casual conversation, a group of strangers is introduced to new food and flavors. Since the first event in 2016, their short guest list and unexpected location in La Bicicleta’s underground dining room have made Tasty Mondays one of the city’s best-kept secrets.
the FREESTYLE Kitchen
Creativity is the essence of what Guillermo terms “freestyle cooking”. In his unrestricted cooking process, recipes are inessential and dishes are invented on the day they are served. Take, for example, the pickled black radishes that, on this particular day, Guillermo brings up from storage downstairs. They were prepared and tucked away five months earlier, and, on a whim, he’s decided to use them in today’s menu. It will be his first time making – well, whatever he’s making. He’s still not entirely sure.
I, being someone who uses recipes like lifeboats, find the thought terrifying. I ask him if he ever gets nervous, serving dishes that he’s never made before, and his response is a “No” without hesitation. “If you’ve been driving a car for 14 years, you know when it’s going to crash,” he grins, referring to the number of years he’s spent working in kitchens around the world, from India to London to here in Madrid. For Guillermo, unpredictability isn’t just a product of how he cooks; in fact, it’s why he does it.
Surprisingly quickly, the dish comes together. Each black radish will be served atop a prawn seasoned with lemongrass and accompanied by a cherry tomato, roasted and soaked in Disaronno liqueur. It’s a compact appetizer with a visual simplicity and clear, direct flavors. There’s even a detailed plan of how to present it, down to the toothpick each guest will receive (he wants them to use their hands). As spontaneous as the dish may have seemed, Guillermo has a clear picture of not just how it should taste but how it should be experienced.
AT THE TABLE
The reckless energy of Guillermo’s kitchen is felt just as strongly in his dining room. He thrives off of controlled chaos, and as the guests filter in, he splits up groups and requests that they only sit next to people they don’t know. If there’s any hint of awkwardness, it’s washed away when the wine (almost immediately) starts flowing. Soon, there’s an easy hum of conversation. Guillermo wants the food to be experienced as a community, so he builds a community from the ground up every Monday.
The meal begins with Guillermo weaving between diners, placing shrimp for the appetizer in front of them as he explains his inspiration for the dish. He’s a natural with the crowd, cracking jokes and occasionally swearing – “I like to shock people,” he tells me conspiratorially.
A highlight of the meal is the vegan ceviche with zucchini, cucumber, and white asparagus. The veggies are soaked in lime and served with kimchi seasoning and green garlic caramelized in coffee liqueur. The combination of flavors is so out of the ordinary that they challenge you to stop and think about what you’re tasting. (Note: Tasty Mondays has a monthly all-vegan date.)
For the main course, Guillermo brings in a huge pot of slow-roasted pork. He calls up three people, hands them gloves, and puts them to work pulling apart the steaming meat. Their handiwork is turned into pulled pork and barbecue aioli lettuce wraps that guests assemble themselves.
By the time dessert rolls around, you would never guess that the people seated around the table didn’t know each other before.
a new approach
With Tasty Mondays, Guillermo proves that complex, interesting food doesn’t need to be inaccessible – you can be serious about food without taking yourself too seriously. “I put my whole life into the food every Monday,” Guillermo tells me. If that’s the case, then Tasty Mondays gives the rest of us the chance to live a little more like Guillermo for a night – no rules, no limitations. As Guillermo would say, “It’s freestyle! That’s the magic of what we do here.”
Photos courtesy of La Bicicleta Café.
Tasty Mondays with Guillermo Galiana take place every Monday at 9 pm, in Spanish. For more information and reservations, contact La Bicicleta Café at the number below.
Address: Plaza de San Ildefonso, 9
Metro: Tribunal, Gran Vía, Chueca
Reservations: 915 329 742
For more things to do in Madrid, take a look at MuchBites’s Madrid restaurants map.