As I’ve probably mentioned in past posts, I was in charge of choosing dining experiences for our Disney Global Tour. I did some pretty extensive research into the offerings available at each location, read reviews, and tried to pick restaurants that would offer an experience that was unique to that location.
I chose Jiko – The Cooking Place because, to my knowledge, there isn’t another South African restaurant at any other Disney park or hotel in the world. It was supposed to be one of our two “splurge” restaurants in Florida, the other being Be Our Guest, although we ended up making a last-minute visit to Artist Point as well.
First of all, let’s talk about getting there from Animal Kingdom. Jiko is located at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, which is easily accessible by bus from the park. Animal Kingdom Lodge has two buildings – Kidani Village and Jambo House. Stupidly, we didn’t look up which one Jiko was in, and got off the bus at Kidani Village, the first stop coming from Animal Kingdom. It wasn’t a difficult mistake to remedy, but just be aware that this restaurant is actually in Jambo House, the main part of Animal Kingdom Lodge and the second stop on the bus from the park.
Jiko is decorated in a whimsical take on African style. The booths, tables, chairs, and floor are all warm wood tones, while the decor is accented with reds, oranges, and yellows. A blue ceiling evokes the wide open sky, while the light fixtures look like birds flying above the tables. Large floor-to-ceiling windows overlook a garden with a brook.
There are two large wood-burning ovens behind a long counter which add authenticity and a focal point for the main part of the dining room. This is literally Jiko (which means “the cooking place” in Swahili), and many of the appetizers and breads are prepared there. It was pointed out to us that if you follow the chimney columns up to the ceiling, you’ll see a very large hidden Mickey.
To start, they served us mint tea (which is caffeinated, in case anyone was wondering) and sweet potato rolls. I couldn’t really taste the sweet potato, but it did add a nice color to the bread.
AJ and I ordered the Taste of Africa for our appetizer. It was basically a variety of flat breads with four different dipping sauces – a hummus-type sauce, a spicy tomato sauce, a yogurt-based sauce, and a mango chutney. All of them were good, but the sweet mango chutney was my personal favorite.
Our waiter warned us as we were ordering that some of the dishes may be “different” to our taste. I took this to mean that Jiko uses lots of spices in the dishes. To my surprise, both of the main dishes we ordered were pretty bland. AJ had the short rib, while I had the lamb tagine, which came with a giant lamb shank. The meat in both dishes was cooked to tender perfection, but the spices were lacking, even by American tourist standards.
For dessert, we shared the Kilimanjaro, which had chocolate mousse, pink peppercorn meringue, and a pistachio crumble. That was tasty; it had chocolate, after all. It was also a lot lighter and fluffier than I was expecting.
Overall, I was pretty disappointed with the food here. Maybe my expectations didn’t match the reality of South African cooking, but I was expecting very bold flavors. Jiko certainly didn’t deliver on that. For me, it wasn’t worth the $40/entree price tag.
Unlike our experience at Be Our Guest in the Magic Kingdom, the service for dinner at Jiko was excellent. Our waiter was pleasant and attentive, and the food arrived in a timely manner. We were in and out of there in a very reasonable amount of time. We were thankful for that, since we still had plenty we wanted to do at Animal Kingdom that evening, including catching the early show of Rivers of Light and one last ride on Flight of Passage.
I was glad that we got to check out Animal Kingdom Lodge. My advice would be to take the bus over there just to see the lobby, but save your money and skip Jiko. There are other restaurants in Walt Disney World that are much more worth splurging on for a Signature Dining Experience.