Walking into the grand lobby of the Animal Kingdom Lodge can feel like being transported to another place. No matter the weather outside, guests can feel cozy in the darkened space, especially with the sound of the crackling fire pit located to the side of the lobby. If you take the elevator down to the ground level of the resort, you will find not only a lovely pool and walking trails, but also Jiko: The Cooking Place. I was recently lucky enough to have dinner with friends at this fantastic restaurant, and now I am lucky enough to tell you all about it!
The restaurant itself is gorgeous, with earth tones and high ceilings. Because many Disney restaurants are much larger than an upscale restaurant you might find at home, sometimes the hustle and bustle of the space might feel a little more cafeteria chic… but that is not an issue at Jiko! The large ovens, generously spaced tables, and proportions of the restaurant make the restaurant feel intimately welcoming.
To start, we were brought a small bread service featuring “giraffe bread,” a soft, yeasty sourdough with a pattern that resembles a giraffe’s coat, and a sesame seed speckled tafsir, a traditional Egyptian bread. The bread was served with a butter/goat cheese mixture that was absolutely heavenly on the giraffe bread: we definitely asked for more!
We also tried the roasted Squash Bisque and the Duck Confit and Honey Raisin flatbread. The bisque was rich, creamy, and tasted of early autumn evenings (even it was 95 degrees outside that night!). A member of our party had an allergy, and the chef easily served the chickpeas on the side of the flatbread, which was sweetly cheesy thanks to the golden raisins, with duck that was moist and flavorful.
For the main event, we tried the Oak-grilled Filet of Beef (with the rather Disney-famous four cheese macaroni), the Botswanan Seswaa Short Rib, and a few orders of the Bobotie macaroni and cheese. The filet was cooked to a perfect medium rare temperature, and we wished we had more of the four cheese macaroni!
Personally, short ribs are one of my favorite foods- and these may be the best short ribs I have ever had. They were slow-cooked with a slightly sweet, savory glaze I will be remembering for a long time. I was not the biggest fan of the accompaniments—- I learned I just don’t love hominy—- but the short ribs were more than filling. The enhancement we ordered, the Bobotie macaroni and cheese, had interesting flavors of spice and almonds. The crumbled wagyu was almost too much for this dish as it distracted from the nuttiness of the cheese. However, it was a different dish, and one I am thankful I tried!
To end our meal, our server sold us on the Malva pudding, a dessert that was as gorgeous as it was flavorful. Jiko’s Malva pudding is designed to represent the wineries of Africa, complete with a bird nestled into an edible nest and a Cabernet gelee designed to look like the vineyards. I am so glad our server persuaded us to try this one, as the description did not sell the dessert as well as he did! The pudding also paired well with the pot of chai tea we ordered to end our night.
I had not been to Jiko: The Cooking Place in almost ten years, but I am happy to have remedied that absence! Jiko offers African twists on common American flavors in a warm, welcoming environment. Jiko is the perfect place to dine when you are staying at the Animal Kingdom Villas, whether you are at Jambo House or Kidani Village. If you arrive earlier than we did (we had a 9:00pm reservation), be sure to take some time to stroll the grounds and wave hello to the Zebras!
Have you eaten at Jiko recently? If so- what is your favorite item on the menu? If not- are you excited to score a dining reservation? Let us know in the comments!