On a recent trip to Walt Disney World, we decided to go off script and pick a new restaurant to try. Little did I know that it would become one of my favorites! Tucked away on the ground floor of the Jambo House at Animal Kingdom Lodge is a truly magical culinary destination – Jiko. In Swahili, “Jiko” means “The Cooking Place”, and boy is it ever! As you approach the restaurant you can see and hear the bright lights and hustle and bustle of Boma to the left. But Jiko is a far different experience, quiet, gently lit, peaceful and relaxing. There are 3 main areas of the restaurant, the lounge bar area (where you will be asked to wait with a pager), the main dining room and The Cape Town Lounge & Wine Room, which is a smaller, more intimate dining room which seats 40 people.
On your way to the table, your escort will point out the open show kitchen where you can see the chefs furiously whipping up treats for your senses. The restaurant has a warm and welcoming ambiance that wraps around and embraces you. It engenders the feeling of being on the African Savannah at sunset assisted by the wood burning ovens giving off a roar and a glow and the restaurant lighting softly changes reflecting the warm, rich reds and golds of sunset. The wait staff is friendly, knowledgeable and aims to please from beginning to end. The starting point is a warm towel to refresh yourself before the meal, these are moistened with a delicate orange blossom rose water, the scent is barely there but the towels are surprisingly refreshing. Then you are presented with a basket of warm in-house baked Dabo bread (Ethiopian honey-wheat bread) and tandoori butter which is seasoned with spices such as curry, garlic and ginger. You can snack on this while reviewing the mouth-watering menu and the extensive wine list – all of the wines are South African boutique wines.
If you are concerned about this being an African themed restaurant, rest assured, it is actually more African inspired with a blend of African, Mediterranean and Indian influence so most of the dishes are familiar but with regional spices or accompaniments. The menu includes appetizers and entrees with proteins such as wild boar, chicken, steak, scallops, lamb but in some cases with spices such as saffron, curry, cinnamon and sides such as couscous, Chakalaka (a spicy south African dish of onions, tomatoes and beans), mealie pap (similar to very soft grits) and cassava-potato puree ( cassava is a starchy root vegetable, also referred to as yucca). Don’t get we wrong there are also items that are more on the exotic bent for example Crispy Duck Bobotie Roll (bobotie is a South African minced meat dish with an egg custard like topping, and in this case served in a spring roll) and Inguday Tibs in Brik (based on an Ethiopian mushroom dish think Greek Spanakopita but with mushrooms, cheese and spinach inside pastry that is deep fried). There is a children’s menu with items such as pizza, grilled chicken, steak and fish.
Between our two visits to Jiko – yes it was so good the first time, we returned a couple of days later, this time seated in the Cape Town Wine Room – we experienced the Taste of Africa (a sampling of 3 different breads and 4 dipping sauces including an amazing Kalamata olive hummus), the Grilled Wild Boar Tenderloin, Lamb Two Ways, Botswana-Style Seswaa Beef Short Rib (Seswaa is a traditional Botswannian dish of meat that is boiled until tender with salt and then shredded or pounded) and Oak Grilled Filet Mignon. All in all the presentation and taste of the food was amazing and we were very pleased with our choices.
Just a word of advice, if you order the Oak Grilled Filet Mignon with pole beans, spoon bread (a moist cornmeal dish almost pudding-like in consistency) and red wine reduction sauce, you can still request the truffle mac and cheese in place of the spoon bread (this option is not on the menu but just ask your wait staff). This is what I requested and even though I can be a bit of a mac n cheese snob, this was amazing with the beef and the wine reduction sauce! Keep in mind the menu changes seasonally which may impact the sides offered and switch up some of the proteins, especially the fish dishes.
The dessert menu had several sweet treats along with an artisanal cheese plate and a no sugar added option (Pistachio and Cherry Trifle). We bypassed the Avocado Custard Cake and went straight to the Malvo Pudding and Ghanaian Chocolate and Kenyan Coffee Pot de Crème. The Malvo Pudding is actually a milk soaked dense cake with toasted meringue, lemon curd and wild strawberries. The Pot de Crème had an underlying almond taste to the chocolate topped with almond crunch and raspberries. Both were fantastic and a perfect end to what turned out to be a stellar meal. I am so glad we decided to give it a whirl, or two.
Jiko is a Signature Dining Experience and reservations are recommended. You can make reservations up to 180 days prior. If you are on the Disney Dining Plan, it requires 2 table dining credits. The restaurant has both gluten free and vegetarian options and like all Disney Restaurants, they are able to work with you on any food allergies (I have several and the chef came to the table before we ordered to address them and make recommendations). There is a resort casual dress code:
Men may wear khakis, slacks, jeans or dress shorts and collared shirts. Sport coats are optional.
Women may wear capri pants, skirts, dresses, jeans or dress shorts.
Not permitted in the dining room are tank tops, swimsuits, swimsuit cover-ups, hats for gentlemen, cut-offs, torn clothing and shirts with offensive language or graphics.
I encourage you to give Jiko a try on your next Walt Disney World vacation!