About once a year (okay, sometimes more often) my friends and I treat ourselves to dinner at one of Disney’s Signature Restaurants. This year we picked Jiko – The Cooking Place (menu) for our big splurge. We partly selected this eatery because it has been wonderful in prior visits and partly because it was conveniently located in the resort where we were staying. The Animal Kingdom Lodge offers a ton of great perks for its guests as well as visitors, and Jiko just happens to be one of my favorites.
The decor of the restaurant fits its Animal Kingdom Lodge location perfectly with rich woods and two wood burning ovens, reminding guests of something that might be used in Africa to prepare a meal. The design of the space is modern and refined yet cozy and inviting. I think my favorite feature of Jiko’s interior is the back wall which is lit according to the time of day to mimic the sunset. We were seated along this wall so we were easily able to enjoy this effect.
There is a vast seating area with both regular tables and booths scattered throughout the space. Guests may also opt to sit at the bar where they can watch chefs prepare their meals in the open kitchen. Sitting at the bar is a great way to get into Jiko without having made reservations. If you would just like to stop in for a glass of wine, that is also possible in the lounge. The wine selection here is amazing, so if you can’t have dinner here, relaxing with a glass or bottle would be a wonderful alternative.
What’s so great about the wine menu here? Well, it boasts the largest selection of African wines outside of Africa. Most of these are available by the glass or the bottle for your enjoyment with your meal or in the lounge. If wine isn’t your thing, there are plenty of beer and cocktail options, as well. Of course, there is also the standard selection of soft drinks for folks who would rather not drink alcohol.
Now that we’ve discussed the booze, let’s get to the food! The menu here changes very regularly to take advantage of the foods in season at the time of your dining experience. There are a few staples that have remained fairly constant throughout Jiko’s history, but the choices are constantly evolving. So if you haven’t had dinner here in a while, perhaps it is time to try it again since you will most likely be able to eat something new each time.
Our meal started off with bread service made up of a sweet selection, a savory one, and tandoori flavored butter. As soon as this hit the table I knew we were in for a long and awesome night of eating. We all dove right into both these African inspired breads and raved about them, especially when they were topped with the special butter. Shortly after we received our bread our server brought out an amuse bouche for each of us to try as a complimentary way to start our meal since we were guests at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. It was a small taste of a gazpacho, which I’m sure I would have loved if I liked cucumbers. Despite my hate of those green monsters, I tried it anyway, and while it wasn’t my thing, I’m sure others would find it yummy.
As I said, we had decided we were going for gold when it came to eating this evening, so we ordered appetizers for the table to share. First up was the Taste of Africa, which is a selection of dips served with breads including naan. We all loved the four dips including humus, and the bread was gone very quickly. We were feeling adventurous, so we also ordered the grilled wild boar tenderloin. I had never had wild boar before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it was amazing. We were only disappointed that it was a small portion to split among the seven of us despite having a ton of other food. I think we all wanted to lick the plate. As if that wasn’t enough, we also split a chicken flatbread. The flatbreads are one of the menu items that is always offered but constantly changes with the seasons. Our flatbread didn’t disappoint, and we cleared that plate, too.
Soon it was on to the entrees, where the filet was king at our table. This dish is one of the most famous at Jiko and loved by many. For years it was served with macaroni and cheese, which made guests’ mouths water. The new chef decided to change things up a bit and swap out the sides, but those in the know can still request the mac and cheese. I think everyone at my table got the mac and cheese! The short ribs were the other popular item among my friends, and many of them opted to get the mac and cheese, too. The others at my table raved about their beef-centric meals, but I wanted something a bit lighter and went for shrimp, instead. I certainly wasn’t disappointed with my decision. My perfectly cooked shrimp were served over coconut rice with a curry sauce with just the right amount of spice.
You’d think we would be too stuffed for dessert after all that food, but oh no dessert was happening! Two of my all time favorite sweets are crème brûlée and key lime pie. Well, Jiko serves a key lime crème brûlée, so I had to try it. It was lovely and not too heavy, but it wasn’t the most amazing dessert I have ever tasted. I would order it again, but there are certainly other things at the top of my list before this one. Cheesecake and chocolate were other must have sweets around my table. I think everyone was quite satisfied with the ending to our meal!
While the food and wine are so good here, what puts Jiko over the top in my book is service. Our server knew the menus like the back of his hand and took care of our every need during our meal. Both times I’ve eaten here I’ve been very pleased with the servers’ knowledge of the wine selection and their ability to pair wine with my selected meal. On my most recent visit our server explained how my Riesling paired with my fish entree and made sure I was okay with drinking something sweet with my meal. He knew his stuff and was very friendly and joked around with our table of seven; this really added to our experience.
I highly recommend taking a night to dine at Jiko, especially if you are tired of the same old steak or fish entrees. Not only is the food here outstanding, but it is something you won’t be able to find at just any eatery. Along with the delicious food, the wine list and service make this one of my favorite places to dine at Disney World. After you finish your meal why not wander around the resort for a while? Whether you are staying there or not, a relaxing evening of exploring one of the most beautiful Disney resorts after a lovely meal sounds like perfection.