Solo Dining Review: Jiko

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Tucked away in the beautiful Animal Kingdom Lodge is a fine dining restaurant unlike any other on Disney property. Jiko, meaning “the cooking place,” is constantly the focus of many dining reviews that you’ll find online. With its unique African fusion menu, stunning simple decor, and incredible wine list, it’s clear to see why the praise keeps pouring in for this establishment.

During my recent solo trip to Disney World, I decided to allow myself a night of indulgence at a restaurant of my choosing. Initially, I was really stoked about trying Flying Fish Cafe, but, when I put the question of “Jiko vs. Flying Fish Cafe” out on the world of Twitter, my Disney friends spoke, and a good 90% of people suggested I try Jiko. Even after reading reviews I knew that Jiko was probably going to blow me away.

After a fun day spent in the parks, including Animal Kingdom, I headed over to the Lodge via Disney bus transportation. I snapped a couple of pictures inside of the resort itself and then proceeded downstairs to check in at Jiko. I asked to be seated up at “The Cooking Place,” which is a bar style seating overlooking the chef’s preparation of many appetizers and flatbreads. I waited less than five minutes without having an Advanced Dining Reservation before I was led to a seat in the stunning restaurant. The two chefs working almost immediately welcomed me. I admit, being the only person sitting up at The Cooking Place was a little uncomfortable at first since I felt like I was intruding on what the chefs were doing. It was almost like they were in the fishbowl and I was sitting there tapping on the glass observing.

Luckily, that feeling didn’t last long once I was greeted by my wonderful waiter, Marty. He went over the wine list and menu with me and helped me decide what would be best for me given that I’m pescetarian. I was thrilled when Marty suggested the Maize-Crusted Corvina with vegetables and a tomato-butter sauce. It was exactly what I had been eyeing online when browsing the menu. To make the start of the evening even better, he suggested a chardonnay to pair with it. I… love… chardonnay.

While I was enjoying conversation with the chefs, Joshua and Lindsey, my waiter brought some bread and butter out to me. We’re not talking about traditional steakhouse bread and butter. Presented in front of me were Dabo Bread, an Ethiopian Honey-Wheat, Flaxseed Focaccia, and a Tandoori Butter. Oh my heavens was this butter phenomenal! I know I was in a classy place, but I was tempted to devour that butter with a spoon alone. The focaccia didn’t really do anything for me, but I really loved the Dabo.

Even though I didn’t order an appetizer (this girl was on a budget), Joshua and Lindsey put together a sample plate for me with Roasted Beet Salad and Mitmita Spiced Ahi Tuna Tataki. I thanked them up and down and then stopped yapping and started eating. I had high hopes for the ahi tuna, and it did not disappoint. What really made the dish special for me was the use of avocado. As for the beet salad, I was nervous. My only encounter with a beet before was opening up the fridge as a kid and being grossed out by my mom’s jar of beets. However, what was sitting in front of me so beautifully presented was nothing like what I’d imagined my first beet to be like. I bravely took a bite and was blown away. The goat cheese and blackberry vinaigrette paired so well with the beets and created this explosion of flavor in my mouth. Success! I’m not afraid of beets anymore!

Not long after my killer appetizers, a stunningly beautiful couple that looked to be in their 50′s or 60′s sat down next to me. I no longer felt so alone, and my comfort level had risen considerably. In perfect timing, my entree was presented to me. I can’t even say one bad thing about this dish. Not one! The size of the dish was considerable, so those folks with a larger appetite would be fulfilled. Every flavor seemed to compliment each other perfectly, and with every bite I loved it more. The fish was really light in flavor itself, but, given that it had a “crust,” it was very filling as well as flavorful. Chef Lindsey came over and asked for my opinion on the tomato-butter sauce. I told her, “It’s my favorite part.” She replied, “Mine too! I could eat just that!” Sisters from another mister… I’m telling you.

When it was time, the dessert menu was given to me and the chefs were trying to convince me to indulge a little bit more. I admit, talking about sweets freed up some room in my ever growing stomach. While my belly was saying, “No more!” I found a happy medium and ordered a dessert cocktail… a Zebratini. This was basically heaven in a glass. I definitely suggest giving the Zebratini a shot.

Nothing pairs better with a chocolate flavored cocktail than some good conversation, and I would like to thank the amazing couple from Ohio for making my night so special. I could give you bits and pieces of their very fascinating life together, but it’s something I hold near and dear to my heart. There’s really nothing like meeting strangers and sharing life stories over good food and good drinks. We all were genuinely interested in learning about each other, and that’s what made it so special. In fact, I was so sucked into my conversation with them that I hadn’t noticed a special treat from Lindsey and Josh that was sitting in front of me… a dessert sampler.

I got to try the cheesecake, crème brûlée, and a mousse called One Last Cup. All of them were outstanding, but the real stand-out for me was the crème brûlée. I’ve had a lot of crème brûlée on Disney property, but this certainly was the best without question.

After my 3-1/2 hour long dinner, I was spent. Chef Joshua suggested I stay and drink more, but Epcot’s Extra Magic Hours were calling to me, and I just knew I’d regret it if I didn’t go. So, I paid my bill, gathered my dining notes, and said goodbye to all of my new friends. This dining experience was worth every penny, and I’d do it all over again in a second. I absolutely cannot wait until my next trip to Jiko. If you happen to drop in sometime, be sure to say hello to Joshua and Lindsey for me.

Any of you out there experience Jiko before? Any solo travelers? I want to hear about it!

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Posted on February 7, 2012

19 Responses to “Solo Dining Review: Jiko”

  • I was considering trying Jiko when I go for a solo trip in September and you just sold me. Thanks.

  • What a fantastic write up of a dining experience, could almost taste the food myself. I really must give this place a try, you have made it sound so wonderful. Thank you.

    • Definitely do try it out! I’m so glad that I did! I’ve found my new favorite place to dine on Disney property! Let us know what you think whenever you eat at Jiko!

  • by Matt New York on February 7, 2012, at 4:16 pm EST

    Stacey: You are much more brave than I am. I was solo and was a little intimidated to dine alone in the restaurant, so I had appetizers at the bar. They were fantastic. I had the Grilled Wild Boar Tenderloin and they were wonderful. The bartender did warn me the portions were small and he was right, but I am still glad I ordered them. I wanted to try every glass of African wine on the menu, but I thought perhaps that would be a bad idea. Thanks for the great Solo trips. I will try to stop being a wimp and try the dining room. Thanks for the inspiration! :)

    • Trying a boat load of wine is a bad idea? Uh oh! I am going to have to remember that tip. ;)

      In terms of wimpiness, you’re talking to the queen bee. I have a hard time going to the grocery store by myself and in Wal-Mart, forget about it. I have a full-on panic attack at times. However, being at Disney solo wasn’t the same. I never really felt alone and for some reason my bravery peaked. I felt like I was amongst friends, not strangers. I was only planning on hitting up Jiko on my solo trip but found myself even sitting at a TABLE by myself during an impulse visit to Mama Melrose. Believe it or not, I loved it! Everyone should just give it a shot and try to let their worries get pushed aside for once. Allow yourself to indulge. After all, you’re only paying for yourself!

  • Jiko is a wonderful taste bud experience without being too far out there. Great conbinations of tastes. I love the setting especially next the windows. A little pricey. The value for the meal seems a little over-priced, but the ambiance puts me over the top and I recommend this highly.

    • It’s a Disney mark-up thing. However, what’s great about Jiko is that I think you’re almost promised perfect food and amazing service. That alone is worth the price. I don’t like to walk into a place questioning whether it’s going to be sub-par or not and then still have to pay an unfair price. Glad you like Jiko!

  • My friend and I ate the barbeque chicken flatbread for an appetizer, and then I had the braised beef short ribs for my entree. DELICIOUS! I would definitely eat there again!!

  • I am so mad that I did not get the chance to hit up Jiko while I was STAYING at Animal Kingdom Lodge this past September. The guy who set up the alarm system in my house is a huge Disney fan and goes 3-4 times a year. He told me not to miss Jiko. My wife and I planned on going, however every night we got back from the parks we were wiped out and collapsed on the bed falling asleep. We have said we will make a special trip to this restaurant next time we go to WDW.

  • We ate there a couple of years ago and it quickly became one of our favourite dining spots!

  • by Joshua Cotton on February 8, 2012, at 12:26 pm EST

    Jiko is a wonderful experience that everyone would enjoy. Not only am I am fan of Jiko, I also have the pleasure of working at Jiko. Jiko’s food is unique allowing you to taste a variety of food from all around Africa. The menu is seasonal, always changing. This allows us to use the freshest ingredients at the peek of their season. To match the food is an out of this world wine list that pairs beautifully. Marty is one of the best servers I’ve had the pleasure of working with and his knowledge of our wine makes for a magical dining experience. Thank you Stacy for that wonderful blog about Jiko. We work really hard to provide a wonderful experience for our guests.

    Hope to see all sitting at our cooking place real soon!
    Chef Assistant Joshua Cotton

    • Hey Josh! Glad you found the review and enjoyed it.

      You’re very right about Jiko. It is a unique experience found on Disney property and there’s nothing else like it. I can’t wait until I’m back there myself.

  • I fell in love with Sanaa, so I’m sure I will LOVE Jiko too!