On a recent trip to Walt Disney World, I made it a mission to revisit one of my favorite restaurants, Jiko.
The restaurant is your top-of-the-line, signature dining option at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Resort, and I’ve been a big fan of the spot since my very first visit.
With a combination of wonderful ambiance, exotic flavors, and a killer wine list, it’s sure to please any adventurous food lover, and it always surprises me that it tends to fly a little under the radar. This may be because the food is a bit less mainstream, or because the restaurant is a hike to get to.
As regular readers know, though — no matter how much I like a restaurant, I insist on visiting and reviewing them time and again to make sure that I can still recommend them. Fortunately, that’s nearly always a pleasure to do.
Come with me as we take a look around and see what’s new at Jiko.
If you’re looking for Jiko, head down from the main lobby of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, past Victoria Falls Lounge, until you get to the bottom floor. Boma is below Victoria Falls, and then you can access The Mara and the resort’s pool here as well. Jiko is to the right.
Enter the refined space, and you see immediately that wine is given a place of prominence here. Jiko boasts the largest collection of African wines outside of the African continent. If you’re a wine lover, you’ll want to check out their suggested pairings.
Although the restaurant boasts elegant finishes and details, if you pay close attention, you’ll see elements of nature and celebration of African culture all around you.
Look closely at the inlay pattern in the wooden floors, and you’ll note stylized wheat sheaths signifying good luck and good harvest.
The bird sculptures “flying” over the wheat sheaths also predict good luck. I love the details that they’ve captured here!
As you walk past the restaurant’s windows, you’ll notice they look out on a water and rock feature. (This is a shot of the area from outside.)
If you happen to be seated at one of the window side tables, be sure to look for the Hidden Mickey in the rock formation!
It should come as no surprise that the restaurant’s centerpiece is an actual “jiko”, translated as kitchen, or oven. This is, after all, where the magic happens.
Check out the caps of the chimneys of the twin ovens and a column behind for another fun Hidden Mickey. 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.
There is actually limited seating at the kitchen bar. Be sure to request a spot here if you enjoy being close to the action and interacting with culinary Cast Members.
As for other seating, it runs the gamut. From booths to tables with chairs, and everything in between, you’ll find comfortable seating throughout.
Probably my least favorite seating is the long booth and row of tables directly below the upper tier. The tables are entirely too close together for my comfort.
The tables on the upper tier, on the other hand, are probably my favorite. There’s plenty of space between them and they offer an excellent view.
Remember when I mentioned the light outside earlier? Lighting in the restaurant actually mimics an African sunset. It’s one of my favorite decor features, as the light starts out bright and slowly fades. For this reason, Jiko is among my very favorite spots for a Disney Date Night.
And speaking of dates, don’t you love these cozy booths? I think they’re perfect.
Now that we’ve worked up an appetite from our tour, let’s dig in!
We were interested to see what had changed about the menu at Jiko. And even though some of the main dishes remain, we were surprised to see that whole categories were gone and that there were fewer overall selections.
The layout of the menu is also quite different from our last visit, when all of the dishes were listed horizontally. And most notably, a full selection of Flatbreads was missing. That was disappointing. They’ve always been some of our favorite and most highly recommended items. And it seems like you never saw the same thing twice.
But notice the “Enhancements” section at the bottom. This is something we’ve seen popping up on many of the signature menus around Disney World. Apparently it gives the restaurants a way to cater to those of us who like to “plus up” our meals, but they can set a standard price point for the extras. For example, after the mac and cheese was taken away from the standard filet, I always ordered it on the side. Now the mac and cheese is on the menu as an “enhancement”. We’ll discuss more in depth when we get to that part of the review.
After reviewing our options, we made our selections and got down to the serious business of enjoying an evening with friends.
Where drinks are concerned, Jiko is most celebrated for its extensive collection of African Wines.
However, one of my friends opted for Beer instead, and chose the St. George Beer, a Lager.
Bread Service had also changed since our last visit. Previously, the bread basket was filled with generous squares of Dabo Bread, a Ethiopian honey-wheat bread. This time, we instead received a board with Rolls and Salted Butter.
These hard rolls were very good, but not really in the same category as the Dabo Bread.
Everyone at the table opted for a starter. One of my friends chose the Jiko Salad, a combination of Heirloom Apples, Cape Gooseberries, Point Reyes Bay Blue, Candied Walnuts, and Maple-Cider Vinaigrette.
The light dish was a perfect start to a relatively heavy meal, and we loved the juxtaposition of fruity elements with the blue cheese (as always). The walnuts were a showstopper with a sweet crunch.
I couldn’t resist the Seasonal Soup. During this visit, it was Mozambique-style Roasted Poblano Pepper Soup, garnished with a South African Butter Biscuit, Sweet Pepper Jam, and Bird’s Eye Pepper Oil.
I didn’t get a great shot of the dish this was served in, but you can sort of see to the left a little “wave” element. It looked like a ribbon sitting on the table! So pretty! The soup itself was decent, but nothing I need to order again. I love spicy pepper soups, and I applaud anytime Disney brings a little heat to the table when it comes to flavor, but this one just didn’t make an impression.
The Charcuterie Platter also sounded good, though, and we can rarely pass up a charcuterie or cheese plate. It was a great combination of Artisanal Cheeses, House-cured Meats, and House-made Pickles. Accompaniments included Toasts, Nuts, Pommery Mustard, and Fruits.
This was very good, despite the small portions. It was very hard to share between four people, for sure. The “powdery” accompaniments at the top were crushed nuts and nut powders, and they were not easy to maneuver when it came to creating a “bite.” I would have replaced them with some great honeycomb.
While it’s not new, the Inguday Tibs in Brik is a favorite appetizer of ours, so we had to get it as well! The turnovers are filled with a mixture of Mushroom, Spinach, and Cheese, and are encased in a crispy wrapping of Tunisian Filo Dough. A shredded Apple Salad and creamy Curry Vinaigrette finish the plate.
I’m glad that this guest favorite has made it though so many menu iterations. These are always good, and end up being an excellent introduction for pickier eaters to the world of African cuisine.
While we didn’t find any of the classic Jiko Flatbreads on the menu, we did spy the Braai Broodjie. Normally, this is a sandwich that is akin to a grilled cheese, but is prepared over low coals. However, in this instance, we found it to be more like a Flatbread. The thin, crispy Millet Crust was topped with Apricot Chutney, Manchego, Midnight Moon Cheese, Charred Red Wine Onions, and Local Heirloom Tomatoes.
This thing was KILLER. The whole table was wowed. Seriously awesome flavors and a good crunch to the crust.
Soon, our entrees began to arrive. As you know, one of my favorite meals in all of Disney is Jiko’s Oak Grilled Filet Mignon. So naturally, I ordered it. While the steak and the accompanying South African Red Wine Sauce remain the same, the sides are constantly changing. This time out, the Filet was served on a bed of Local Pole Beans and Spoon Bread.
The filet didn’t have the same wow factor this time around as it usually does. As we know, Disney’s restaurants are often inconsistent due to chef changes and local food availability, but I was still a bit disappointed. Now, this could be because 1) The food just wasn’t as good as I’m used to, or 2) I’ve been eating a lot of Ribeye lately, and the diminutive, less flavorful filet may not have made the grade for my tastebuds this time around. Who knows. Overall, it wasn’t a bad steak; but for some reason (maybe it’s just. so. small.) I couldn’t shout accolades from the rooftops on this one.
Now, back to our discussion of Jiko’s amazing Mac and Cheese that we started up in the menu section of this review. This rich pasta used to be the standard side with this dish, but it hasn’t been for a long time. Still, even after it was replaced on the menu, it was so popular that the kitchen still made it available as a substitution by request.
So this brings us back to the Enhancements. As far as we can tell, this is mostly a fancy term for Side Dishes, although sometimes it includes things like Lobster Tails. The point is, prices vary widely on the items, and that’s where we found a Mac and Cheese option.
The Braai Macaroni and Cheese is aptly named, as it’s clearly given some time in Jiko’s oak fired oven before arriving at your table. The dish is more than just pasta and cheese sauce, though. You’ll find a mixture of Chakalaka, House-made Boerewors Sausage, and Provolone, Fontina, Gruyère, and Asiago Cheeses as you dig in.
It’s hearty and worth the price, to be sure. The addition of sausage and inclusion of so many flavorful cheeses was ideal. I mean, if you were going to create your perfect mac and cheese on paper, this would pretty much be it, right (though I might use andouille sausage). But…again, this didn’t make a massive impression. I missed Jiko’s simple, standard mac and cheese. But maybe I’m just a whiner and I need to embrace new things more? Could be. ;-D
My husband opted for the Botswana-style Seswaa Beef Short Rib, which came with Cassava-Potato Purée, Sambal, and Mushrooms.
This was very good — fork tender and flavorful. But the real story came from the service on this one. My husband had to take an unexpected work call in the middle of dinner, and while he was gone our entrees arrived. He was still away from the table about 10 minutes later, and our server actually took the short rib away and brought back an entirely new one so that my husband wouldn’t come back to a cold dinner. Now that’s service!!!!
We also ordered the Maize-crusted Halibut. The fish dish was served on a bed of “Vegetables of the Moment” — including Cherry Tomatoes — and Tomato-Butter Sauce. I didn’t try this one personally, but it looked gorgeous, and I wish I could have gotten a taste of that tomato butter sauce! Our friend pronounced it delicious.
We decided that we didn’t want to wrap up the meal without a sweet ending, and so we took a look at the After Dinner Drinks Menu and the Desserts.
In addition to the offerings you see below, Jiko has a nice assortment of hot Teas as well. Be sure to check them out if you love tea as much as I do.
Several options sounded good, so we decided to pool our dessert resources and share a few bites of each among friends.
I opted for the Ghanaian Chocolate and Kenyan Coffee Pot de Creme, which included Almond-flavored Whipped Cream, Almond Crunch, fresh Raspberries, and a very cool Dark Chocolate Garnish.
Oh my; this was delightful! I’m pretty sure we fought over this one. While I know many folks aren’t fans of chocolate-chocolate-chocolate, the creaminess and bittersweet flavor of this was top notch.
My first friend chose the Malva Pudding. Think of “pudding” here in terms of a British-style pudding — a moist, steamed cake. The flavors on the plate included Amarula Crème (of Zebra Dome fame), Wild Amarena Cherries, Toasted Meringue, and Brandied Cherry Ice Cream. We absolutely loved the attention to detail in the garnish here as well.
This was lovely, and a good option for those looking for a not-too-sweet option.
Finally, we decided on another dessert that relied heavily on Chocolate as the main flavor — the Valrhona Chocolate Mousse and Hazelnut Dacquoise Cake. Strawberry Coulis added a nice bright flavor to the mix.
This was fine, but I’m usually not a huge fan of the “fancy layered cake” desserts that are so popular right now. Give me a big ol’ slice of cake with thick frosting layers between and I’m good to go, but these “opera cake”-esque jobbies never float my boat.
I still love Jiko.
This is a signature restaurant that just never gets old for me. The experience evokes all of my senses. The decor is so beautiful, and I seem to see some new detail every time I visit. And the menu — this is truly a spot that does a great job of combining favorites (like the Oak Grilled Filet) with new, fresh, local and international flavors. I always get the chance to try something new-to-me here.
If you haven’t given Jiko a try, I suggest that you do the very next time you’re making advance dining reservations at Walt Disney World. It’s one of the few spots where I feel like I have the opportunity to be surprised by the menu nearly every time I visit.
Now, I’d love to hear from you! Have you visited Jiko for dinner? Leave a comment and tell us about your experience!