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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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
Once you’re headed to your table, look down to the polished wooden floor to see stylized haystacks representing food and prosperity.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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 😉
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.
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!
The Jiko salad was not mine to eat, but it looked absolutely gorgeous and got a big thumbs up!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.)
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.
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.
We also ordered a couple of caffeinated drinks to fuel our drive home. Mine is the Thunderbolt Darjeeling tea — yum!
In a move I haven’t seen at Jiko before, we were treated to three small butter cookies to end our meal. Nice touch!
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!