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Review: Jiko at Disney World’s Animal Kingdom Lodge

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.

Atmosphere

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.

Menus -- Click to Enlarge

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!

Outside View

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.

Bar Area and Wine

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.

A View of the Restaurant from the Front

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.

Ceiling and Bird Detail

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?

Bread Ovens and Jiko

It’s a great spot to watch the hustle of the kitchen, as chefs prepare appetizers and salads for guests.

Wraparound Chef's Counter Gives Guests a Close Up of Kitchen Action

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. :-)

Close Up of Oven Hidden Mickey

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.

Floor

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!

Floor Detail

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.

Seating

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.

Beautiful Lighting Reflects the Time of Day

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.

Mixed Banquette and Chair Seating

The colors of the booths are vibrant, and offer a great view of the kitchen action.

Booth Seating

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.

Additional Mixed Seating

If I’m visiting Jiko later in the evening, my favorite place to sit is this upper area.

Upper Seating Area

It’s elevated a bit, and provides a nice vantage point for viewing the entire restaurant.

View of Restaurant from Upper Seating Area

Some of the prettiest seating spots are these cozy booths located on the upper level.

Close Up of Round Booths and Lighting

Once we were seated (this time in the Cape Town Wine Room), I looked forward excitedly to seeing what was new on the menu!

Eats

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.

Menu -- Click to Enlarge

I started the evening with a frozen strawberry daiquiri. Not the most African of drinks, but delicious nonetheless.

Strawberry Frozen Drink

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.

Amuse Bouche

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!

Complimentary Bread Service -- Dabo Bread and Tandoori Butter

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.

Inguday Tibs in Brik

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.

Inguday Tibs in Brik -- Inside

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.

Grilled Wild Boar Tenderloin

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!!!

Oak Grilled Filet with Mac and Cheese

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!

Maize Crusted Corvina

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.

Seared Barbarie Duck Breast

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.

Tagine Chicken

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.

After Dinner Drinks Menu -- Click to Enlarge

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.

Dessert Menu -- Click to Enlarge

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!)

Kenyan Coffee Creme Brulee

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.

Cheesecake

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!

Chocolate and Tea Safari

With the check, we were presented with some small complimentary Crackle Cookies.

Complimentary Crackle Cookies

This is a charming custom that Jiko started a while back, and I hope it continues.

Overall

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!

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17 Comments

  1. Jenny says:

    I think Jinko is very pretty. I haven’t eaten at the restaurant but when my DH and I stayed at AKL we had room service and it was a menu from Jinko. We loved the food and would recommend this place to any one.

  2. Jenn says:

    I ate here back in… oh dear, 2010. That was too long ago. I remember we ate ostrich, which was interesting. Been heading to Sanaa of late, but I need to come back to Jiko for that mac and cheese!

  3. Dana says:

    We ate at Jiko for the first time last October, and we’re eating there again this October. I have a gluten allergy, so instead of bread, they brought out a gluten-free flat bread that was just amazing! I am ashamed to say I ate almost the whole basket by myself, but our waiter quickly brought another one out so my husband could have some, as well. I had the short ribs, which were amazing. My husband had a pork dish which almost brought tears to his eyes. The only part of dinner that wasn’t mind-blowing was the deserts – they were good, but they just weren’t “wow”.

  4. Chuck says:

    Oh man I was debating canceling my Jiko reservation for Bluezoo now your making me re think that idea…

    Thanks AJ

    Great Review :)

  5. Jennifer says:

    Great review, AJ…Jiko is one of fav restaurants!

  6. I love, love, love Jiko! One of the best things about it too is that you can always request a either full vegan or vegetarian printed menu – containing many options not on the standard menu. Jiko is our default “special occasion” restaurant at Disney =)

  7. LORI FRENETTE says:

    We have eaten here several times. It is a hidden JEM! Every time is amazingly good. I hate for the word to get out. I might not be able to get in next time. Its 2 table sitting on the dinning plan or about $120.00 for a 4 course meal for 2 (no drinks). So it is a splurge but so worth it. Our kids are adults so the first few times it was just me and my husband. But last time we went our boys 21/23 joined us and also thought it was great. Pork, Duck, Steak all wonderful. I will have JIKO’S in my dinner plans every time I visit.

  8. Erin says:

    Thank you for this review! We’ll be heading to Disney in 47 short days, and this is in my top two all time favorites. The other being California Grill, which I was able to book this morning (again, thanks for the info) for 7:45pm the first night of our trip! I had Jiko in that spot originally, so I cancelled Sanaa and booked Jiko instead because I just can’t miss it. Every time we’ve been there it’s just been a wonderful, quiet, relaxing dinner and the servers are some of the best we’ve had, too. Can’t wait to try the new items!

  9. Christina says:

    I love Jiko. The food is nicely seasoned. Also they’re one of just a handful of WDW restaurants that have an ENTIRE vegan menu!! If you mention the V word, they scurry off and get you a menu of wonderfully seasoned vegan choices! YUM

  10. Sherri Erwin says:

    I happened to start feeling really ill at the beginning of our Jiko meal a few years ago (not due to the food or service, maybe heat exhaustion). Our server could not have been more helpful and sweet. They took our bottle of wine off the bill, wrapped up all our food to go (complete with real silverware), and made sure to call the bell services to have a cab waiting. When we finally got to the food, it was delicious, but certainly not the same as it could have been. Stellar service. I keep meaning to return but haven’t made it back yet.

  11. kathyk says:

    Plant City strawberry flight on the dessert menu! Nice to see mixed in with its African authenticity a nod to the best in local ingredients! Warms this eastern Hillsborough girl’s heart. :0)

    Bet that menu’s changed by now, though, huh? Plant City berries are only in season until about March or so.

  12. Joanne says:

    Tried Jiko for the first time during a solo trip when my husband was out of town. So glad I did and the food was amazing. Will be back in the not too distant future. Thanks for the review.

  13. Holly says:

    Love Love Love! The Filet is amazing! I also enjoyed the Artisanal Cheese Selection. We went December 2012 and look forward to going back on our next trip. This restaurant is amazing and totally worth 2 dining credits (unlike Le Cellier in my opinion). Our server Sergio was excellent. First meal on our trip with deluxe dining and it was my favorite – now a must do on every trip! Will not be doing deluxe dining this trip – way too much food. Chef came out to talk to us – because of a food allergy in our party – so great and personable.

  14. Catie says:

    I love your reviews! They are always all detailed and make me want to pack up my bags to go eat there. I was wondering, do you use the dining plan when you go to disney? Or do you pay out of pocket?

    Thanks!

  15. Paul S. says:

    One day, I WILL try this place! It sounds INCREDIBLE!

  16. John says:

    Without a doubt the most consistently excellent meal on WDW property (although, to be fair, I’ve never done Victoria & Albert’s – that might beat it). Every time we’ve been here has been a delight, and every time we’ve brought guests for a first time visit, they’ve loved it. The ambiance is spectacular, the menu always intriguing and staff may not always be up to the American level of “5 star service”, but they are always engaging, pleasant and very helpful.

    It was my first trip to Jiko years ago that prompted me to get serious about Morroccan cooking, and I’ve been using the heck out of my tagine ever since. And as a big wine lover, the Cape Winemaker’s Guild wine list (the “Captain’s List” at Jiko) is one of the most diverse and reasonably priced wine experiences one can have in the parks.

    I love the fact every time we come to Jiko with the family, it’s location at AKL ensures it will be a special “destination dinner” that we need to rest up and dress for. The kids love the inventive kid options on the menu (especially the make your own smores :) ), and they love getting to AKL an hour early so they can walk the grounds outside and see the animals.

    I’m torn about constantly raving about Jiko, as it consistently remains an easy ADR, and I’d hate for the place to reach Le Celier levels of ADR difficulty. Quality wise, though, Jiko is light years ahead of that Epcot fave, and if you haven’t tried it yet, you are missing out on one of the true “Signature” experiences Disney has to offer.

  17. John says:

    And Sherri, my then 10 year old son had a similar experience one Jiko trip. A long day in Animal Kingdom in the heat left him feeling a little queasy, and just after our meal arrived, he ran to the bathroom and was ill. He spent the next hour in there before well enough to head back to our rented house. The waiter at Jiko felt so bad, they took my son’s meal off, (even though I never asked and they certainly didn’t have to), and gave us a desert to take back for when he was feeling better. Even more spectacularly, they arranged for the valet to have our car waiting when we paid, and gave us a heavy duty bag and two scented towels for the ride home just in case.

    I know Disney’s reputation was built on guest consideration like this, but it seems to be lacking somewhat these past years. Not at Jiko, however – it’s the norm there.

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