When you first think of dining at Walt Disney World you would be forgiven for not first thinking of the opportunities for a fine dining experience. In reality Walt Disney World offers some excellent restaurants which are more than worth a visit by tourists and locals alike.
Jiko – The Cooking Place is a particular favorite of mine. It is located in Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. Chef de Cuisine Anette Grecchi Gray presides over this AAA Four Diamond Award winning restaurant. The origins of her creations for the menu were her participation in 1999 in the 25th anniversary of the South African Cook’s Society in Johannesburg. She cooked for African dignitaries and traveled into the bush to learn the cuisines and culture of the South African tribes.
The Jeffrey Beers designed interior is a fabulous mix of warm colors,taking it’s inspiration from The Lion King, and creating an inviting and sophisticated atmosphere. You are warmly greeted by African students who are participating in the Disney one year cultural exchange program. The focus of the restaurant are the twin wood burning ovens in the open kitchen. Diners can choose to sit at the bar and observe the chefs prepare the food for the restaurant.
The style is American cuisine blended with influences from Africa, Europe, the Mediterranean and India. This is an unusual mix, but it works beautifully. There is not anything too challenging here though. I found the originality refreshing. Familiar dishes are offered with a different blend of flavors and ingredients. Appetizer offerings include Green Asparagus Soup, Tikka Marinated Ahi Tuna, and Kalamata Olive Flatbread a particular favorite of mine. The signature dish is the Wood Grilled Filet Mignon with macaroni and cheese and red wine sauce. An unusual combination, but it works wonderfully. Other items include Durban Shrimp Curry,Tamarind Braised Beef Short Rib, and Wood Grilled Pork Tenderloin. I recommend that you order the cheese plate which has selections of goat and sheep’s cheese.
Many of the waiters are sommeliers and will be glad to offer samples of wine before you decide on a bottle. They will expertly guide you through the exclusively South African wine list. With over 1800 wines, Jiko has the largest collection of South African wines of any North American restaurant.
Not forgetting the dessert, my favorite is the Flourless Chocolate Mocha Cake Stack with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce. Other current offerings include spiced fruit sorbet and Green Apple Mascapone Trifle.
This fine dining restaurant has an unusual feature. A children’s menu. My young children, who are very familiar with and enjoy dining out in high quality restaurants, appreciated the quality of the food. The menu has the usual kid’s offerings of macaroni and cheese, grilled cheese and pizza but they are cooked from scratch with high quality ingredients. Our family is always very happy at Jiko.