You guys…Jiko still rocks.
Animal Kingdom Lodge’s signature dining spot has it all — unique, interesting food that’s constantly changing to reflect seasons and trends. Ambiance that changes with the evening light. Impeccable service.
We have returned to Jiko again and again since my husband and I celebrated our first Valentine’s Day together. On a recent visit, we met friends at Jiko for a special dinner in hopes that our streak of great experiences would continue.
Jiko is located on the ground floor of Disney World’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. Head downstairs from the lobby, past Victoria Falls Lounge. You’ll find Jiko adjacent to Animal Kingdom Lodge’s other table service spot, Boma.
A bank of windows overlooks a beautiful water feature just outside of the restaurant. The rocks and running water provide a soothing backdrop to your dining experience. And if you happen to be seated near the window, be sure to try and spot the hidden Mickey in the rock formations!
Back inside, you’ll pass a bar area and the outside wall of the Cape Town Wine Room en route to the main dining room. This is a great time to discuss the truly amazing wine offering at Jiko. The restaurant offers only African wines and is home to the largest collection of South African wines outside of the African continent.
Pause as you enter the restaurant and take in the view before you. The interior created by well-known restaurant designer Jeffrey Beers evokes themes from The Lion King. The colors, although understated, are rich and mimic nature.
Dozens of bird sculptures are suspended in realistic fashion from the ceiling and provide a wonderful sense of movement. I have yet to walk into Jiko with someone seeing the birds for the first time and not see his or her face light up. They’re a beautiful touch.
A “jiko”, or cooking place, is the focal point of the restaurant. This area is replete with texture and color, with the beautiful clay and tile ovens anchoring the spot. A marble flat top and pounded metal surround lend more interest. And don’t you love the mismatched bar chairs?
It’s a great spot to watch the hustle of the kitchen, as chefs prepare appetizers and salads for guests.
And if you look closely at the top of the ovens where they join the ceiling, you just might spot a hidden Mickey in plain view.
Don’t forget to look down while you make your way to your table. The wood grain floor has an inlaid design that represents sheaves of wheat. In and of themselves, they’re beautiful.
But when I took the Animal Kingdom Lodge restaurant tour a few years back, I learned that the birds flying over the sheaves of wheat on an African farm portend good luck!
Here, you can see the water feature that we looked at earlier from outside. These are some of my favorite tables during daylight hours.
This also gives you a good view of Jiko’s columns. The rings around the pillars represent the neck rings worn by women of the Ndebele tribe of South Africa. Look closely, and you’ll see that different columns have different numbers of rings.
If you haven’t had a chance to dine at Jiko, you’re gonna love the lighting! Throughout dinner service, the lights deepen in color from yellow to orange and finally to red, mimicking the African sunset.
When it comes to seating, there are a plethora of choices. Mixed seating made up of chairs and banquettes aren’t my favorite. I think they’re a bit cramped personally, but it wouldn’t be too bad with a smaller party.
The colors of the booths are vibrant, and offer a great view of the kitchen action.
These tables are probably my least favorite. Way too close together. I always hate when I get seated at these ones… . Sigh. Just request when you check in to have a table that’s separate from other parties if you’re like me and prefer not to be smooshed next to a bunch of other parties.
If I’m visiting Jiko later in the evening, my favorite place to sit is this upper area.
It’s elevated a bit, and provides a nice vantage point for viewing the entire restaurant.
Some of the prettiest seating spots are these cozy booths located on the upper level.
Once we were seated (this time in the Cape Town Wine Room), I looked forward excitedly to seeing what was new on the menu!
Because, at Jiko, there is always something new. That’s great for the adventurous diner, but be forewarned: you probably shouldn’t get too attached to your favorites. (Although my most favorite dish of all was still available by special request. More about that in just a minute.)
As with most of Disney’s signature restaurants, the menu is small. However, every dish is complex with many different elements.
I started the evening with a frozen strawberry daiquiri. Not the most African of drinks, but delicious nonetheless.
While we were looking over the menu, our server brought out this beautiful Amuse Bouche. I’ve placed it on the menu in this photo so that you can see what a tiny work of art this was. It was the perfect bite to engage our senses and excite us about the meal ahead.
After we placed our order, our server brought Jiko’s delicious complimentary Bread Service, featuring Dabo Bread, an Ethiopian honey-wheat bread. It was served with a Tandoori-Spiced Butter. The flavorful mix includes butter, along with garlic, cilantro, ginger, and curry.
The cilantro means that I don’t enjoy it very much, but it’s always a hit with whomever we bring to the restaurant!
Now, the Jiko menu is always interesting, because there are forever going to be things on the list that we can NOT figure out! Since the dishes are African and Ethiopian in nature, there are always new things to learn (and ask our server to describe).
On this evening, we had decided to try two appetizers that we’d never had. The first was Inguday Tibs in Brik. If you’re like me, none of those words mean anything to you at all!
This is truly an African fusion dish. Inguday Tibs generally refers to an Ethiopian vegetarian dish featuring mushrooms. Brik is a Tunisian pastry that is deep-fried.
Chefs have added cheese and spinach to the filling to create a fun twist on two classics. Served with julienned apples and a creamy Curry Vinaigrette, we enjoyed this hearty, meatless starter.
As delicious as it was, though, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try something exotic in the meat department. We went for the Grilled Wild Boar Tenderloin. Wild Boar is often on the menu here at Jiko, and I always remember fondly the Wild Boar sausages I ate at Belgo when I lived in London! So I was really anxious to try this.
First, the color was beautiful, cooked to a perfect medium rare. The flavor was like more intense pork, slightly sweeter than pork tenderloin, and very tender. The creamy Mealie Pap — similar to very soft grits — was a nice base to catch the juices of the meat, and the Chakalaka provided a piquant contrast. The White Truffle Oil finished the dish luxuriously.
At this point, it was time to move on to entrees.
You guys know that one of my favorites forever at Jiko has been their Oak-Grilled Filet Mignon. The filet was originally served with an awesome mac and cheese, but with each subsequent chef reigning over Jiko the side dish gets changed. These days, it’s served with “Ancient Grain Pilaf” and Brussels Sprouts, along with a red wine reduction.
But I love that the mac and cheese is still available as a substitution. In fact, these days, as soon as your server comes to your table that’s one of the first things they tell you: “Yes, the mac and cheese is still available!” How awesome is that?
This dish is just as good as it always has been!! The spice on the steak marries with the flavors of the meat perfectly, and the red wine reduction — prepared with South African wine — is incredible. It continues to be one of my favorite meals at Disney. I mean just look at that!!!
One of my friends wanted to try one of the seafood offerings on the menu, and opted for the Maize Crusted Corvina. Served with the “Vegetable of the Moment” (which seemed to include spinach), the presentation was beautiful with a generous portion of Tomato-Butter Sauce which sent me into dreaming about my last serving of Butter Chicken at Sanaa!
We also chose the Seared Barbarie Duck Breast, served with Potato Spinach Masala and Royal Trumpet Mushrooms. I love me some duck when it comes to Disney restaurants — I’ve rarely had a bad experience ordering it. And doesn’t that description sound amazing? The plate was finished with a sweet, rich Port Emulsion.
The final dish of the night was Tagine Chicken, served on a bed of gorgeous Cinnamon Couscous. Olives and Preserved Lemons completed the complex dish. Harissa, a spicy chili sauce, provided amazing flavors.
This was an incredible melding of flavors — a classic dish that brings a bit of Morocco into the menu. We loved it.
We knew we wanted to try a few of the dessert offerings as well, so we took a look at the menus. Coffee lovers will enjoy the Kenyan Press Pot Coffee.
Although we don’t show it here, there’s also an extensive tea menu if you prefer to end your meal this way.
I definitely saw some new dessert options. Another interesting thing to point out are the dessert wines. Consistent with the restaurant’s mission to provide African wines, these are all from South Africa and are different than what you see at other spots. I think this is a really interesting, unique touch.
There’s always a crème brûlée option at Jiko. After all, this is Disney! The flavor du jour was Kenyan Coffee Crème Brûlée, flavored with Kenyan Coffee and Amarula Liqueur (the same yummy stuff you find in Zebra domes).
Playing on a “coffee and doughnuts” theme, it was served with Cake Koeksisters, a South African doughnut. And if that isn’t enough for you, there’s also a dipping sauce of Crème Anglaise. (I LURVE dipping sauces!)
Cheesecake is always hard to resist. This version is White Chocolate with Toasted Coconut and Mango Sauce. A side of Pineapple Chili Sorbet didn’t make a lot of sense as a plate component, and I honestly didn’t love the flavor, either.
However, the cheesecake itself was super creamy and very thick.
We also ordered the Chocolate and Tea Safari. Vanilla Rooibos Tea and Chocolate are an unexpected combination — usually chocolate seems to be combined with coffee — but the flavors worked really well together. I also really enjoyed the creamy Green Tea Ice Cream and the “Free Form Kit Kat Bar” garnish. I am all about the fun, candy-inspired garnishes!
With the check, we were presented with some small complimentary Crackle Cookies.
This is a charming custom that Jiko started a while back, and I hope it continues.
There is no suspense here, I’m afraid. I have loved Jiko in the past, and I continue to love it. It’s always one of the first restaurants I recommend when folks are looking for a high-end, romantic, or signature meal.
It represents everything fantastic about upscale dining at Disney. First, for me at least, it’s been very consistent in quality. The dishes are always thoughtfully prepared, and the intricate components layer flavor and visual appeal in a stunning way.
Jiko will continue to be a favorite spot for me when I want reliably great food with just the right balance of surprise and the expected. If you haven’t eaten here yet, I hope we’ve inspired you to book your advance dining reservation in the near future.
Do you have a favorite Jiko memory? Leave a comment and tell us about your experience!