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Review: Jiko…A Cooking Place

Well, my food-loving friends, it’s finally time to talk about one of my very favorite restaurants in all of Walt Disney World. My husband and I spent our first Valentine’s Day at Jiko, and we’ve returned time and time again to enjoy consistently delicious meals.

Now, a few of you might be concerned that you won’t find anything on the menu that suits your taste in a restaurant that touts “African” food, but fear not; there really is something for everyone here.

Atmosphere

Jiko is located on Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge’s ground floor and features floor to ceiling windows that look out onto a beautiful and peaceful water feature. But the windows are probably the least interesting thing about this restaurant’s design, which was developed by Jeffrey Beers.

Walking into the restaurant you’ll pass a bar area to your left and see the Cape Town Wine Room directly in front of you. (Yep, that’s it behind the glass walls of wine!) Jiko serves exclusively African wines and has a superlatively large collection of South African wines. The wine room offers specialty wine dinners from time to time, which feature speakers from South African wineries. While most parties are not seated in the wine room, you can request it if you’d rather have your dinner there.

Bar Area in Restaurant Entry

Wine Room Walls From Outside

Wine Room

Walking further into the restaurant your eye could be drawn in several directions. The large open kitchen — or Jiko (which means “the cooking place”) — to your right features huge wood burning ovens in a gorgeous shade of orange. Follow the chimneys up to see one of the biggest hidden Mickeys on property! It’s fun for kids (and adults!) to watch the sous chefs work their magic on the appetizers at the counter…

Jiko Ovens and Counter

Hidden Mickey on the Ceiling

Chefs Working at the Show Kitchen Counter

You might also be drawn to look at the back wall, which could be a brilliant shade of orange, a soft shade of yellow, or a pale shade of beige. This wall transforms throughout the night to represent the setting sun on the African savanna.

Perhaps you automatically look up — your eye following the hundreds of birds flying overhead against a deep blue background. These represent good luck.

Birds flying toward the sunset

Or maybe you’re following the pattern of the columns in the restaurant. Those rings encircling the columns represent the neck rings worn by the women of some tribes to indicate beauty and wealth.

Columns in the Restaurant

Once you’re headed to your table, look down to the polished wooden floor to see stylized haystacks representing food and prosperity.

Booth and Table Seating and Haystacks on the Floor

Seating here can be at tables or booths. Our favorite place to sit is at a table by the window during daylight hours (see if you can find the hidden Mickey outside!), and over by the “sunset” in the back at night. We try to avoid the “half-booth, half-chair” seating arrangement, as those types of tables always make us feel as though we’re too close to our neighbors to really enjoy a private meal.

Seating by the Window

Booth Seating by the Show Kitchen

Hidden Mickey Outside

Eats

Luckily, I’ve got two trips to Jiko to report on today, so we get to check out even more food pics! The first trip is from October 2010, and the second is from January 2011, so they’re both pretty recent. Interestingly, Chef Dennis Thompson took over the Jiko kitchen in Fall 2010, and many changes have already been made to the menu since that switch. As a result, what we ordered in October might not be on the menu currently; but I’m going to show those photos to you anyway, because dishes are often cycled on and off the menus in Disney World. Also, who knows — if something looks particularly appetizing, you can always ask if it can be made.

January 2011 Menu -- click for larger image

Kids Menu -- click for larger image

So, here we go! Starting out with one of my favorite new drinks in any Disney restaurant, the Victoria Falls Mist! This gorgeous green cooler includes Tangerine, melon, banana, and Van Der Hum, and has a sweet-sour taste that I fell head over heels for. Once served up at the Victoria Falls Lounge upstairs from Jiko, it’s now only found on the Jiko menu. Once in a while you’ll find a bartender up there who can still remember the recipe (or find it in the rolodex).

Victoria Falls Mist

I enjoyed this (and quite possibly two of them in quick succession) along with the bread service, which consists of Dabo bread (Ethiopian honey-wheat) and flaxseed focaccia. This is served with a tandoori (doesn’t make too much sense to me, either) butter, including garlic, cilantro, ginger, and curry. Don’t mistake this for the “Taste of Africa” bread appetizer. The one you see below is free with your meal.

Bread and Butter

For appetizers, we decided on the brand new Flank Steak Flatbread and Tibs Watt in Pannekoeke dishes along with the artisanal cheese plate (a staple for me).

The Flank Steak Flatbread was phenomenal. Folks, I’ve had it twice now, and it is very probably my favorite appetizer on Disney World property. Hunks of savory flank steak, sweet caramelized onion, the crunch of arugula, rich manchengo cheese, and a Berbere sour cream — which has a base of red chiles — on top. Heavenly. Kudos to the chef for coming up with this one. It makes the barbecue chicken flatbread pale in comparison.

Flank Steak Flatbread

The Tibs Watt in Pannekoeke wins the prize for being much more boring than its name. Basically, it’s braised beef rolled up in crepes; and while it tastes just fine, I wouldn’t trade in a second flank steak flatbread for it ;-)

Tibs Watt in Pannekoeke

The cheese plate (in October) featured two cow-milk, one goat-milk, one sheep-milk, and one blend. The cheeses listed on the menu below can be found left-to-right in the photo. One of our favorites, surprisingly, was the bleu cheese. We also enjoyed the Brillat-Savarin and the Fiscalini. Thanks to Jiko for continuing too offer five cheeses on the plate.

Artisanal Cheese Selection

cheese menu -- click for larger image

Now, on to soup and salad (I told you there were two meals here, so don’t get too freaked out by the amount of food you see coming at you!). We ordered the Butternut Squash Soup with Spiced Cottage Cheese, Toasted Almond, and Coconut; and the Jiko Salad with heirloom apple, pistachio, pumpkin seed, sheep’s milk cheese, and pomegranate vinaigrette.

Let me just say that I ate a LOT of butternut squash soup at Disney restaurants over the past two months and this was, by far, one of the best. You know my penchant for creamy, buttery soups, and this was exactly that. However, it had the added flavor of the toasted almond and coconut — very subtle, and completely delicious! I chose not to have the spiced cottage cheese in the soup (as it’s usually served) and instead had it served on the side. While I’m not sure I would have liked the soup as much with the cottage cheese at the bottom, I do have to give creativity points for an interesting mix of flavors and textures! Thanks to reader Alma M. for recommending this dish!

Butternut Squash Soup

Spiced Cottage Cheese -- typically served in the Butternut Squash Soup

The Jiko salad was not mine to eat, but it looked absolutely gorgeous and got a big thumbs up!

Jiko Salad

Now, Jiko is one of those restaurants that doesn’t have a clear winner between the appetizers and the entrees. I’ll often be enamored with either the appetizers or the entrees, but it’s not often that I put both down in my memory book. Jiko, however, has such a fantastic menu that it’s difficult not to anticipate every course.

Many of you heard this Fall that the Jiko Filet with Macaroni and Cheese and red wine sauce was taken off of the menu in October. That much is true. It has been replaced with “Oak-grilled Filet Mignon with Roasted Fingerlings, Berbere Green Beans, and red wine reduction.” However, we had the experience of the famed and wonderful Nassar (our server) approaching our table with the words, “You can still order the mac and cheese with the filet,” before we said a word! Nassar clearly knows his clientele! And I, of course, ordered my old standard…which was just as incredible as it always has been. That macaroni and cheese is unparalleled anywhere on property.

Oak Grilled Filet With Mac and Cheese and Red Wine Sauce

Also ordered in October was a dish that’s no longer on the menu as of January, but was quite good. The Berbere pork tenderloin with black eye pea risotto and tomato jam had great flavor, and the addition of risotto always makes any dish better in my book. I do hope this comes back onto the menu as there really isn’t a pork dish on the list at the moment.

Berbere pork tenderloin with black eye pea risotto

Next up on the entree list: the short ribs are back on the menu, but in a slightly different rendition. In January, we found them served as Braised Beef Short Rib with truffled potato pureee, pearl onions, baby carrots, and cabernet-tamarind Sauce. A gorgeous looking dish that earned rave reviews! Those who have missed the coffee short ribs would do well to give this version a try.

Braised Beef Short Rib

Moving on to dessert, I’m sad to say that the legendary pistachio creme brulee had been removed from the menu by the time I got there in October and was still gone in January. However, the dessert menu is obviously getting played with, as the menus I received on both visits were completely different!

October Dessert Menu

January 2011 Dessert Menu -- click for larger image

Something that I do notice, however, is that when a favorite dish is removed from the menu, the replacement includes the same flavors. For example, the pistachio creme brulee was axed, but a South African Spice Cake with pistachio frangipane, amarula-white chocolate mousse, and caramel was added in its place. (Nothing to write home about as far as taste is concerned… at least for us.)

african spice cake

And when they got rid of my beloved — BELOVED — lemon curd with blueberry compote and sour cream ice cream (RIP), it was replaced with Cheesecake with Lemon Curd, Blueberry Coulis, Blueberry Compote, and sesame “Bee Sting.” This was fine, but didn’t come close to replacing the wonderful, simple, delicious dessert that had been on the menu previously.

Lemon Cheesecake with Blueberry Compote

So when I returned in January, we ordered something completely different. There was nothing pistachio, lemon, or blueberry on the menu, by the way! ;-) We chose the Cheesecake, Caramel and Toffee — a creamy Madagascar vanilla cheesecake with salted caramel, macadamia-almond toffee, whipped cream, and chocolate covered coffee beans. This was quite good, and had the consistency of an Italian cheesecake vs. an American cheesecake. The toffee was excellent.

Cheesecake Caramel and Toffee

We also ordered a couple of caffeinated drinks to fuel our drive home. Mine is the Thunderbolt Darjeeling tea — yum!

Teas -- click for larger image

thunderbolt darjeeling tea

In a move I haven’t seen at Jiko before, we were treated to three small butter cookies to end our meal. Nice touch!

Butter Cookies

Overall

I can’t say enough about Jiko. It has always been consistent with food quality and creativity — something that I can’t say about most Disney restaurants — and we always have excellent service. It’s a winner of a restaurant that offers the added benefit of being in the middle of a gorgeous resort hotel and away from the hustle and bustle of the parks. I’m pretty sure that if my husband and I could swing it, we’d head over to Animal Kingdom Lodge for a week and never leave the hotel. I know he’d be perfectly happy to eat at Boma, Jiko, Sanaa, and the Mara for a week, and, honestly, so would I!

As an aside, Jiko has always been my refuge from the “potato-rut” that Disney restaurants have gotten themselves into. It seems that nearly every main entree has to feature some sort of potato side dish these days, and that just doesn’t have to be the case. There are gorgeous pastas, risottos, rice, cous cous, vegetable dishes, and other strong contenders that can be used in place of the fingerling, au gratin, or baked potato dishes, and I hope to see more of these infiltrate Disney menus in the future. Granted, Jiko’s sporting four potato side dishes in its entree list in the January menu — up from two in October — but I’m chalking that up to a winter menu… . ;-)

Let me know what you think of Jiko in the comments section below!

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26 Comments

  1. Kelly says:

    Oh Jiko… It’s always been my favorite Disney restaurant. Until October. We had a God-awful meal that’s left me really disenchanted and I probably won’t return until they get the chef situation sorted out.

    We started out strong with our appetizers, but things quickly turned sour when we sat for an hour and half without our entrees. We like to take our time enjoying our meal, but it was getting ridiculous. The manager did come out with a peace offering…a palate cleanser. Apparently their printers broke in the kitchen and no one noticed when there weren’t any orders coming into the kitchen?? When we finally did get our meals, my steak (I had the filet with mac & cheese, obviously) was over cooked and a far worse cut of meat than I had earlier in the week at Le Cellier…which was cheaper. My fiance’s duck was undercooked, and my Mom’s fish was too salty. There’s a restaurant having and off night…and then there’s an off night. It was just awful. We didn’t stick around for dessert, so they did give us our drinks off, bringing the cost down a lot.

    I’m glad to see your January trip was strong, fingers crossed it’s digging it’s way out again!

  2. AJ says:

    Kelly — Yikes. Sounds like a visit I had to Le Cellier in 2009. Bad, bad, bad. I’m surprised they didn’t give you the whole meal gratis…I would think that was the least they could do for forgetting about you for over an hour. Interestingly, our October and January visits were strong (minus desserts). I wonder if I got a lucky week in October or if you got an unlucky one!

  3. Jeff from NJ says:

    Jiko continues to be one of our top 3 restaurants, yet like Kelly, our last meal in December was a huge disappointment, and left us asking simply, “What the heck happened here?”

    We always request to be seated with Leslie if he’s working as he really embodies what a server should be (knowledgeable, charming, and attentive), and we were seated with him again. Sadly, the meal was downhill from there.

    My favorite appetizer, the Crispy Savanna Rolls were no longer on the menu. As it was my birthday, I asked if it was possible to still get them, but was told, “No.” I ordered, instead, the replacement Crispy Beef Bobotie Roll which was a major dud in comparison. The entrees were passable, but far below Jiko’s standard. The Halibut, in the past, has been so exceptional that I often crave it at home. This time, however, it was quite mediocre. My wife had the filet (with mac and cheese), and was disappointed in the quality of the beef. Even the mac and cheese seemed to be a little, “off” from the norm.

    After all of this lack-luster meal, I greatly anticipated the desserts only to be saddened again! The legendary Pistachio Crème Brulee was no longer available. My heart was broken. Being my birthday, Leslie brought me a small sample of the replacement Amarula Crème Brulee. It was excellent, but still not as good as the Pistachio. Having had a taste of it, we did not order it, and instead ordered the Cape Malva Pudding and some sort of forgettable cake (I forget the name). Both were dreadful. Just awful. Bland, dry, and uninviting.

    Not exactly a birthday dinner to remember!

    We love Jiko, we adore Leslie, and we will go back, but we seriously hope the next experience brings Jiko back to its former glory in our hearts.

  4. AJ says:

    Jeff — I’m sensing a trend in the comments section… ;-) I’m so sorry to hear about your bad meal! While we did have some less-than-stellar desserts (which, frankly, I’ve unfortunately come to expect in a lot of signature restaurants in Disney World), our apps and entrees were wonderful on both visits. I’m shocked that they wouldn’t make the old appetizer; the only excuse for that in my book is not having the ingredients on hand. I’m interested to hear how your next visit goes — drop me a line if you remember.

  5. Joy4Tigger says:

    I had a fantastic vegetarian meal there in February 2009. Unfortunately, all the things I adored are no longer on the menu!! I’m with you AJ about the best dessert EVER being the lemon curd with blueberry compote & sour cream ice cream!!! I mourn its disappearance!

  6. Sara says:

    YEA JIKO!!!!! My boyfriend and I went here for the first time this past December and were completely blown away. Honestly, I would not hesitate to use the word incredible to describe our meal here. The food was amazing, the service was top-notch, and we loved watching the sunset wall changing colors (“look, it’s pink now!”). Absolutely our new favorite! Thanks for starting off my Monday morning with some great food memories :D

  7. Alan says:

    This shows what a delicate balance running a great restaurant is. We have a generally beloved eatery having what I assume are or were some temporary problems; word spreads and suddenly there is a bad vibe. Obviously, it is very disappointing to the diner and can ruin a special meal. The great, successful chefs/restaurant owners make sure things like this do not happen. Disney has to make sure these mistakes don’t happen in any of their restaurants especially their “signature” places.

    Kelly, you have the patience of Job. They should have comped the whole meal for an hour and a half entree wait.

  8. Kelly says:

    Thank you for this great review!! I have been wanting to try it out. I think it will be on my list of to-do’s for our November trip!!

  9. carolyn says:

    Uh-oh, should I be worried? I have ADR’s in early March as I’ve heard such great things about Jiko over the years. But it seems to be on a downtrend… thoughts?

  10. AJ says:

    Joy4Tigger — Hopefully the great vegetarian goodies will make it back on the menu! Also, Jiko, I believe, has an entire vegetarian menu these days… Agreed on the dessert. I loved that dish!

    Sara — Great to hear about your good experience! Looking forward to your review!

    Alan — Yep. The more I dine in Disney World the more I appreciate a consistent service and food quality. We’ve never personally had a problem with Jiko — it’s been a tried and true favorite for us for years :-)

    Kelly — Can’t wait to hear what you think!

    Carolyn — Personally, I’d keep the ADR. I’ve been through at least three chefs with Jiko and it hasn’t lost its lustre for me. Give it a try and see what you think :-)

  11. Kim says:

    Jiko is our favorite too, and while our meal in October was certainly very good, I felt as the menu was becoming “safer” and thus a bit disappointing. We’ll go back, I’ve yet to have a bad meal at Jiko, but I’ll hope for some additional changes to the menu.

  12. JulFromMD says:

    We were there in December and had an amazing time. One of the things that stood out to us was a creamy cauliflower soup with raisins that the chef sent out for us to try (not something on the menu, so not something we ordered). Holy heck, it was good! I asked for the recipe but was told that it was just something the chef had whipped up for that night to try out, so the recipe wasn’t available.

    The other thing that was unique to our trip was the holiday dessert I had. I’ll need to go back through my photos for it, but if memory serves, it was eggnog cheesecake with some sort of peppermint candy cane crumble. Very good, but very rich!

    We’ve only eaten at Jiko twice, but we’ve not had a bad meal yet. :)

  13. Jamie in Jax says:

    WOW! That is a lot of mixed reviews. I have never dined at Jiko, but it sounds like the resort has gone through a staffing change in the kitchen. Of all the things that Disney can cut back on, let’s hope they never start in the kitchen. Dining at Disney has always been a big part of why we vacation there multiple times a year. Sorry to those of you that had a bad experience… but don’t give up! If Jiko is not your speed, there are many other great places to dine at the World! ;)

  14. Erin says:

    I’ll add to the mixed review confusion. We dined at Jiko in November 2008 and had a truly outstanding meal. We were back a few weeks ago to have our family Christmas dinner there. It was fine, but with certainly none of the “wow” that we had two years earlier. Part of me was willing to chalk some of this up to it being a holiday; however, the service was superb our waitress was helpful, polite and efficient. It was just the food that was kind of meh.

    One of my daughters had the filet, which was seasoned differently in the past. Not as good IMO. My husband, an adventurous eater, couldn’t get through his chicken because he found the tastes “confusing.” Even the kids’ smores dessert was strange. They were given browned, but cold, rectangles of marshmallow to add to their graham crackers. None of the kids finished theirs. (A big tell-tale sign of a problem.)

    JulFromMD – We also had the holiday dessert you mentioned. On the menu it was called “Candy Cane and Eggnog” (Creamy Candy Cane Cheesecake with Peppermint Gelee, Chocolate Eggnog Creme Anglaise, Candy Cane Snow, and Peppermint Brittle.) It was good – but a bit overwhelming. The eggnog taste was lost when paired with the strong peppermint.

    I really hope Jiko is just in a minor bad patch and pulls it together soon. I have such fond memories of my first meal there.

  15. Brooke says:

    Great review, AJ. I recently (January) dined at Jiko for the first time, and found it to be really really good to great. The flank steak flatbread was the standout for me, although my shortrib entree was delicious, well-seasoned, and perfectly cooked (veggies too.) The Chocolate Block wine that I had was astounding, and sent me looking on the internet for more information! But it’s the flatbread I’m still dreaming about! Thanks for reminding me of a really great evening :-)

    Also dreaming of getting in on one of their wine dinners. Should I just contact WDW DINE for more information on them?

    Thanks again for providing such awesome detail!

  16. Patricia says:

    My husband and I had our second phenomenal meal at Jiko’s last week. We shared the cheese appetizer, which was excellent. My husband had the shortribs, which were great. But the life-changing meal was the duck, which I ordered. Slices of perfectly cooked duck, crispy and chewy on the outside, medium on the inside. The potato and spinach masala was spicy, but a nice level of heat that complemented the richness of the duck and the port wine reduction. All in all, one of the most delicious dishes I have had in recent memory. We also got the cheesecake and toffee dessert, which was a solid finish to the meal.

  17. Kelly says:

    AJ- We weren’t the only ones whose entrees took forever. If they comped our meal, they would have had to do it with a significant portion of the diners! The other thing we noticed that week is how many of our waiters were also the ones clearing the plates…which left our dirty dishes from the app course sitting there for a good half hour before being cleared…sigh…

    Sorry to be a Debbie Downer. I’ve always loved Jiko and really talked it up to my fiance. I was just so disappointed.

  18. carolyn says:

    AJ – okay, will keep ADR and post back with my thoughts when I return from WDW :)

  19. Heather says:

    We’ve had two good meals at Jiko in the last 12 mos. We did have subpar service during the first meal, but the food made up for it. On the most recent visit the food was only OK but the service was awesome. We still enjoy Sanaa more than we like Jiko!

  20. Pam Dyer says:

    I loved the Butternut Squash Soup as well. I too was not sure about the cottage cheese beneath the soup, but our server explained that it really made a difference, & she was right. The soup was outstanding, but with the spiced cottage cheese it was an added delight. I requested the recipe from the chef, and received the soup part, but not the spiced cottage cheese. I am awaiting that, & will make the soup again.

  21. carolyn says:

    Back from WDW. Jiko was one of the favorites of my sis/mom. They really enjoyed their meals (shrimp curry, beef short ribs). My dad had the infamous fillet Mignon with the mac/cheese and he didn’t care too much for the mac/cheese combo and also said the meat was a little dry (but his plate was clean so he enjoyed it, but wasn’t ‘wowed’.) Me… not impressed. I did enjoy the Jiko Salad but felt they could have reduced the amount of dressing they put on the salads. My veg option was just “oh-kay” – I liked 2 out of three of what was served (the stacked vegetables wasn’t very good – just zucchini and red peppers in a sauce – I couldn’t eat it. The other was a spinach/cheese ‘manicotti’ which had a slight kick to it and was nice, the other was a really good chick-pea cake, that was my favorite). I will say the vanilla cheesecake was divine! Our service was so-so. We had to wait 30 minutes (they forgot us!) and our server was nice to everyone.. but me! Not sure why that was, but she cut me off a few times, but I noticed she was nice to the others! LOL! Oh well! :) I did ask for a sample of the infamous mac/cheese (I was dying for some – as you all know the mac/cheese in the parks is horrible!) and she said she’d bring me some, but when the other servers brought our meals out, alas, no mac/cheese. By the time our waitress came back to check on us, our meals were done and I was too full. So, I internally pouted a bit – I really wanted to taste what the fuss was about! :) (On a bright side, the mac/cheese at Boma was really good. As a matter of fact, I liked Boma a LOT better than Jiko!)

  22. Richard says:

    Last week we had a reservation, made 180 days in advance, for a 7:30 seating. We have a young child and were trying for the earliest we could get. We also wanted to do some of the night time things at the Lodge. We were not seated until 8:30. The explanation was that there was an unexpected large party. What this means is that this party was more important to them than the reservation we made 180 days in advance. In addition, the service was rushed, we were out in 45 minutes, that included drinking a bottle of wine. The food was excellent but needless to say the rest of the evening was ruined. We will think long and hard before going to Jinko again, probably stick with Boma.

  23. Amy says:

    Would love to see an updated review on Jiko since my favorite restaurant, California Grill, will be under renovation when I visit. Thank you in advance.

  24. AJ says:

    Amy — I’ve been to Jiko several times since this was written, and my overall view of the place is basically the same: excellent, unique menu; good food; good service; worth the money and travel. When’s your visit? Usually the menus change out quite often.

  25. Amy says:

    AJ – We are visiting June 2013 and trying to decide between Jiko or Le Cellier Steakhouse. Thoughts?

  26. AJ says:

    Hi Amy! Well… I love them both, but my last meal at Le Cellier was my favorite meal EVER in Walt Disney World (Poutine, mushroom filet with extra truffle butter sauce, and other things I don’t remember because I was too busy eating the poutine and mushroom filet with extra truffle butter sauce). Check out the menus and see what wows you the most!

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