Coral Reef Restaurant is a table service option in Epcot’s Future World at Walt Disney World.
Coral Reef Restaurant
As you might imagine, Coral Reef is located in the Seas Pavilion, home of The Seas with Nemo and Friends. It’s one of only two table service restaurants in Future World — the other being Garden Grill in the neighboring Land Pavilion. The biggest draw to Coral Reef is the centerpiece of the restaurant: the six-million-gallon aquarium where fish, sea turtles, and (sometimes) divers swim by throughout the meal.
But even with that draw — making Coral Reef a truly unique Disney World experience! — Coral Reef often sinks to the bottom of DFB’s rankings of table service restaurants. Sadly the food just hasn’t been that great over the years. Lunch in 2014 was decent at best, with the Seared Mahi Mahi being the only I’d-get-that-again dish (alas, the Sriracha Shrimp we enjoyed on that visit are no longer on the menu…).
But you know we like to re-review restaurants on the regular, since chefs, menus, and servers change up regularly. My most recent visit was the best I’ve had in terms of food, and while it won’t move Coral Reef up to the top of the list at Epcot — admittedly a difficult park because there are so many awesome choices — it gives me hope that maybe the restaurant is providing a better experience for guests.
The atmosphere of Coral Reef is the star of this restaurant, and for those who love sea life or aquariums, this really is a must-try. Nothing quite compares to the beauty of dining with only eight inches of glass between the diner and the sealife.
The stadium seating here is designed to provide views, even if you’re not immediately tank-adjacent.
Details from the entrance through the dining space emphasize the seas, with mosaics, carpeting, fabrics, and lighting designed to submerge you in the theme.
And if you and your crew want to learn a thing or two during your meal, you can search for creatures using this handy Fish Guide!
So which of these gilled friends will end up on the plate (ouch!)? Thankfully none of them, but their cousins aren’t so lucky! Let’s take a look at the menu.
The menu at Coral Reef has changed a lot over the years, with only a handful of starters and entrees. Even with its limited offerings, Coral Reef does have a decent variety, with fish and seafood dominating but turf-based dishes (and a vegan entree) available as well. Lobster Macaroni and Cheese is a popular option.
Meals here start with bread and butter, and even this staple has changed with the times. Current bread is rustic, floury rolls, thick and warm.
Butter here used to be sprinkled with black sea salt, but that’s no longer the case. This is a straight-forward way to start the meal.
The Crispy Rhode Island Calamari is a much better start! This fried squid dish is crispy, as advertised, and topped with Roasted Corn Relish and Tomatillo Sauce. This is packed with flavor and textures. Awesome way to start the meal!
The Spinach and Ricotta Ravioli is another starter option, but it’s heavy enough to work as an entree (perhaps particularly for vegetarians — sans prosciutto! — as there’s only one veg option in the entree section). Opinions at my table were split on this one. I thought it was a little bland and heavy, but my dining companion loved it — it was her favorite dish of the meal.
The ravioli are served with Artichoke, Leek, and Dill Cream and topped with Baby Asparagus, Prosciutto Chips, and Balsamic Glaze. The Balsamic Glaze carries a good amount of flavor, but the rest of the flavors were washed out, for me. But, again: my companion loved it, so it’s worth a try if this sounds like something you’d enjoy!
For the carnivores there’s this 10-ounce Top Grilled Sirloin Steak served with delicious Garlic and Rosemary Potatoes, Creamed Spinach, and Bercy Butter. The potatoes tasted like twice-baked potatoes and had a nice richness of flavor. The spinach was fine but not remarkable. The Bercy Butter is a great addition! It’s a compound butter loaded with the flavors of shallots and white wine.
The steak itself was not a winner. It was tougher than I’d like, and the flavors just weren’t there. This is definitely not a steakhouse steak, but if you must have red meat at Coral Reef, this will fill the role.
The stand-out of the meal, though was the Shrimp and Grits! These were truly fantastic and worth coming back for. The Sauteed Shrimp, Local Corn Succotash, Andouille Sausage, and Creole Spice Emulsion top faaaaaabulous Cheddar Cheese Grits.
Seriously. The grits and the emulsion on top — which was like a spicy aioli — make the dish.
Desserts at Coral Reef have been mediocre at best in the past, and this visit was pretty much par for the course. Many readers recommend the Baileys and Jack Daniel’s Mousse, and I totally should’ve listened to you guys!
I went with the Key Lime Tart, which should surprise no one. I typically enjoy the tart flavor of key limes, and this was all right, though not a stand-out.
This Key Lime Tart incorporates other fruity flavors in the Strawberry Sauce, Tropical Fruit Glaze, and Boba Pearls.
The disk on top was tasty, and the key lime did work with the rest of the flavors. I appreciated the effort with the white chocolate shard, but it just wasn’t a wow. It was fine, and that’s sort of a sad way to describe dessert.
The Turtle Cheesecake presents really well, with Pecan Florentine, Chocolate and Caramel Ganache, and Caramel Sauce. There are lots of pastry techniques at play here, and some good contrasts in texture.
The pastry sea turtle and blue sugar wave are cute additions that play into the theme of the restaurant (isn’t there something fun about eating a pastry turtle whilst watching a sea turtle swim by?).
But, again, this wasn’t a stellar dessert. Nothing stood out to us screaming “come back and eat this again.” It was humdrum.
In the future, I’ll get the mousse to give that a try — or maybe I’ll just stop at the grits because yum!
Nosh or Not?
Swim into Coral Reef Restaurant if:
- the appeal of dining adjacent to a massive aquarium is irresistible.
- you have little ones that will be sufficiently entertained by the aquarium that you’ll be able to sit in peace and enjoy a meal.
- you’re into seafood, and want to try all of the options at Walt Disney World.
- you want to try all of the table service restaurants at Epcot.
Stay on the shore if:
- you prefer to enjoy table service meals that are more consistently delicious.
- you don’t care for the aquarium setting (or you just don’t want to look a fish in the eye while you’re… you know… eating one).
- quick service meals fit your touring schedule better.
- you prefer to eat your way around World Showcase instead.
So here’s the thing: Coral Reef Restaurant has never been at the top of our lists of dining options at Epcot. With so many options just a quick walk away in World Showcase, it’s hard to decide to eat in a restaurant that’s inconsistent, at best. So while this meal experience was better than ones I’ve had in the past, I still rank it close to the bottom of my list of table service restaurants at Epcot.
I know, that’s kind of sad. Especially because the draw of dining in the aquarium is really appealing. If you’ve got kiddos or adults who absolutely love the Seas Pavilion and sea life in general, it is definitely worth a try. But with so many dishes being hit-or-miss, you’ll want to temper your expectations a bit.