Escapism might seem like the most plausible cause for a Michelin-star trained chef to open a restaurant 90 minutes car drive North of Berlin in an ancient farm house – especially since urban escape most certainly will the the reason you’ll find your way through the forests of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern to Forsthaus Strelitz. For Wenzel Pankratz himself, the friendly chef giant with the deep voice and massive afro who thrones 2 meters above his human peers, the move to Neustrelitz was, however, merely a return to his natural habitat. Pankratz (or Wenzel, as everyone calls him) grew up in this area and after years of high end cooking in high-end restaurants (Facil, Esszimmer etc.) and helping with the start of Crackers in Berlin, the move back to Neustrelitz was for him, more than anything else, a possibility to set up shop in a comfort zone while still catering to an urban target group.
“…the friendly chef giant with the deep voice and massive afro who thrones 2 meters above his human peers”
Forsthaus Strelitz is an old estate from the early 1900’s that Pankratz parents acquired back in 1998. The parents ran the restaurant and the attached farm as a casual affair for over a decade with Wenzel’s dad in the kitchen before the 24-year old junior seized the helm of this operation together with his sister in 2015. Together as a family they realized their vision of a modern and self-sustaining countryside inn, complete with 8 comfortable yet fiercely minimalistic guest rooms.
“Forsthaus Strelitz is an old estate from the early 1900’s that Pankratz parents acquired back in 1998.”
Staying the night at Forsthaus Strelitz is not necessary, yet highly recommended; this is a restaurant best experienced in full immersion, and this means exploring the area as much as being woken up by the farm rooster for Wenzel’s breakfast. The surrounding area is stunning with one lake after the other, so driving out early and grabbing lunch in the area is highly recommended, for example at one of the nearby fish smokers like Glut & Späne in Gerswalde (formerly of Markthalle Neun) or Fischerei Stechlinsee in Neuglobsow.
After your smoked fish lunch it you can enjoy the open fireplace in your room before you indulge in the estate “mini-bar”, a funk little room with juices, local beers and Jura champagne. And then, before you know it, it will be time for dinner in the main house. Here Wenzel dictates the pace behind his massive, wood-fired stove, an ancient piece of equipment that he reanimated when he took over the kitchen. Using this beast exclusively, Wenzel and sous chef now cook 6-course menus for the 25 guests that visit his restaurant four days a week.
“.. this is a restaurant best experienced in full immersion, and this means exploring the area as much as being woken up by the farm rooster for Wenzel’s breakfast”
Food at Forsthaus Strelitz is first and foremost a showcase of the rich bounty and harvest of the estate itself, mostly vegetables and meats (they keep chickens, lambs, pork and ducks). The rest is sourced from trusted suppliers in the area or around the country, regionalism is not pursued on a dogmatic level, but applied cunningly where it makes sense in terms of quality. Dishes arrive surprisingly swiftly, without much explanation, but then again the food really also speaks for itself.
A slow-cooked “landei” is covered in browned butter, a piece of pickled plum and raw carp, after that poached cod is served with fermented tomatoes and nettles. Two dishes that are visually underwhelming (to say the least) but that caress your palate in a way that will inevitably create high levels of comfort and well-being. Don’t let the rudimentary plating on the food fool you – the food is perfectly cooked, remarkably understated and bloody delicious.
Evenings continue down that same path; slices of cooked lamb tongue are served in a rich celery broth, perfectly seared pigeon breast and heart with savoy cabbage dressed in sheep’s cream and a sunflower seed cream, all whilst throats are cooled with a very well-priced list of low-intervention wines supplied from Berlin’s Viniculture.
“Don’t let the rudimentary plating on the food fool you – the food is perfectly cooked, remarkably understated and bloody delicious.”
The absence of urban pace and sous vide machinery seem indeed to have turned Wenzel into an extraordinarily grounded and confident chef with a cooking style reminiscent of a meal at Nobelhart & Schmutzig, only less fine and with a higher comfort factor. And when the meal at Forsthaus Strelitz ends, you can only hope that you, like me, also get to seal the deal with seabuckthorn ice cream on milk cream. If not, I’m certain Wenzel will have adequate alternatives ready along with a lovely Bavarian Whisky liqueur on the rocks as a digestif.
However, in a true the best-is-yet-to-come manner, if you do choose to stay the night at Forsthaus Strelitz, make sure you prepare yourself for the grande finale a la Wenzel Pankratz on the following morning: His hand-cooked breakfast, a scrumptious selection of charcuterie, eggs, freshly baked bread and handmade yoghurt, washed down with plenty of coffee and apple juice from the farm while the first rays of morning sun seek light up the dining room. Many lines could be written about the greatness of the breakfast, but let’s just leave it at something like “it’s the single greatest, German-style breakfast you’ll ever have”.
“Many lines could be written about the greatness of the breakfast, but let’s just leave it at something like “it’s the single greatest, German-style breakfast you’ll ever have”.”
Forsthaus Strelitz is a touching experience and one of the most relaxing urban escapes a Berliner can undertake, as long as you also leave your ego back home and don’t expect a fine dining meal. And bring your own shower soap (long story short: there is none). The understatement and comfort of the food remind me of some of my favourite places in Scandinavia and the produce understanding and lack of ego in his cooking make Wenzel one of the more interesting German chefs I’ve come across. The meal by itself easily compares to many of the best I had in Berlin the last years and in the context of spending the night and also having breakfast, this is truly one of the most inspiring food experiences you can have in Northern Germany.