We’ll head out to Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge to check out what’s new at Jiko, including the Circle of Life Prix Fixe menu, in anticipation of the live action version of The Lion King debuting in theaters on July 19th.
Animal Kingdom Lodge is among my favorite resorts to visit because there’s so much to see and do, even if you’re not staying at the resort. While Jiko is a destination in and of itself, having the opportunity to immerse yourself in African culture adds another layer of authenticity to the experience. You’re not simply visiting a standalone restaurant. You’re indulging in all of the Disney magic that makes the experience come alive.
Dozens of lookout areas are accessible to guests visiting the resort, whether you want to sit down and leisurely rock back and forth at one of these overlooks or if you want to walk down to the ground level and get closer to the giraffes, zebras, cranes, and other animals that call the various savannas their home. You might plan on arriving about an hour before your reservation so you’ll have an opportunity to look around.
Now at Jiko, the signature restaurant’s main dining room is elegant as a flock of birds overhead leads guests further into the restaurant.
Off to the right is the wine room, which is a little quieter and more intimate.
My favorite tables line the glass windows about half way inside the restaurant. You’ll be able to enjoy the tranquil waterfalls outside as well as the large wood burning ovens, which make up “the cooking place,” on the other side. It’s also far enough inside the restaurant that lobby noise shouldn’t be an issue. Jiko is located right next to the check-in area for Boma, the bustling marketplace buffet next door. With no doors to the restaurant, noise often emanates from outside, particularly when the musicians arrive with enough drums for the kids to take part. Fun for the kids? Yes. Annoying if you’re trying to hold a conversation and sip a $90 glass of ’06 Vin de Constance at a signature restaurant? Absolutely. If they try to seat you at one of the first two or three tables on the left, you might ask about being seated further back. It won’t be a problem.
The wine room that I referred to above is officially part of the “Cape Town Lounge and Wine Bar.” The latter is open seating near the restaurant’s entrance and consists of about five seats at the bar and three or four tables. While I enjoy a lot of lounge experiences across property, this isn’t necessarily one of them as you’ll have people hanging around as they wait to be seated and the space doesn’t have a lot of character on its own. If a couple of appetizers and drinks sound good, I’d go ahead and make a reservation to enjoy the full restaurant experience. Jiko isn’t a particularly popular restaurant, so the forums shouldn’t be able to make you feel bad about taking a precious table away from a poor family of six desperate to enjoy what they consider to be a fuller experience.
Of course, if you’d prefer a more casual experience, or you’re dining alone, then the Wine Bar may be a better fit.
With the Circle of Life menu, we see a bit of a departure from Jiko’s typical offerings. There’s only one flatbread, for example, versus the two or three that we typically see. The Short Rib is also not available for the first time in as long as I can remember. We’ll hone in on each section as we move through the meal as some of the descriptions are a little difficult to read and the online menu is (surprise, surprise) incorrect:
Fortunately, the Wild Boar appetizer, which might be the best plate of food at any Disney World restaurant, remains a feature.
As far as the Prix Fixe menu is concerned, according to Disney:
Starting June 30, you’ll be able to partake in an exclusive three-course menu crafted as a one-of-a-kind culinary celebration of Simba’s story. As the dinner progresses, wildly talented musicians will join in on the fun with vibrant African melodies as well as live performances of the award-winning movie soundtrack.
The music was a highlight of the evening as the two musicians circled the restaurant playing beautiful arrangements of classic songs. We saw them three times during our meal and enjoyed five or six songs. The music was the perfect volume – just loud enough to entertain in the background of great food and conversations. You could have certainly talked over it without disrupting other guests’ enjoyment, but everyone around us sat quietly taking in each note. It was really well done.
All meals at Jiko begin with the delivery of warm towels to wipe off your hands. That treatment is followed by these delicious Sweet Potato Rolls served with creamy honey butter. The yeast rolls are dense and fluffy with just a little bit of a sugary kick from the sweet potato. The sprinkle of herbs on top of the chewy crust makes them all the more irresistible. As far as complimentary Disney World table service bread goes, I’d slot these in around three, behind Yachtsman’s Onion Rolls and Kona’s Sweet Rolls with the Macadamia Butter. That’s still high praise.
We’ll get things going with the “I Just Can’t Wait to be King” Circle of Life appetizer, which Disney describes as “a dish featuring Young Cedar Creek Clam Malata, Potatoes, Pomegranate, and a Bone Marrow finish. This dish symbolizes the playfulness of Simba’s joyous childhood and his desire to one day become king.” The second part of that might be a bit of a stretch. If anything, the inclusion of Bone Marrow “feels” like it’s bit on the morbid side, all things considered.
While it’s described as a “finish,” the Bone Marrow is what steals the show. You might be a little hesitant about sliding the small fork that will be delivered alongside the dish into the bone, but you probably won’t be after tasting the first bite of buttery, garlicky deliciousness that’s sweetened up by the crisp, juicy kernels of pomegranate. Bone Marrow can be on the oily side, but that also isn’t an issue here with the potato adding a bit of heft and the bread crumbs soaking up the flavors while also adding some texture. The Clams underneath were just fine, appropriately chewy with a little bit of white wine and thyme. Pairing them with the butternut squash pieces surrounding the bone enhanced the flavor quite a bit, but I’m not sure how many people are going to put those two things together on their own.
Overall, it was a nice mixture of flavors and textures and a combination that most people would probably overlook. With that said, it might be nice for there to be a couple of selections as part of the fixed price meal. On the other hand, if the appetizer doesn’t sound good, you could certainly order a la carte.
There are two wine pairings offered with the Circle of Life menu – $22 for “Standard” or $29 for “Deluxe.” With the appetizer, the standard pairing is Cederberg Bukettraube, which is ordinarily $15 a glass at the restaurant or $13 a bottle at the store. It’s crisp and uncomplicated with a light peachy sweetness. The deluxe pairing is the Paul Cluver Gewurztraminer, which seems strange considering the bottle price at the restaurant is $10 less than what’s served with the standard pairing. The flavor on the Cluver is similarly sweet and peachy with a slightly fresher and more complex taste. The pour size on each is on the disappointing side. You’d think they could hook you up with a solid 4-ounce pour, but this is much closer to two. You’re not really saving any money with the pairing compared to ordering a glass or two of wine of your own choosing. With both bottles under 15 bucks at the store, we’re not exactly at the pinnacle of high-end wine-making, though South African wines are typically great values.
Here’s a reminder of what’s available as a la carte appetizers:
Note that there are fewer options on the actual menu than what currently appears online. On Disney’s own website, they advertise Chilled Braii Tomato Soup, Charcuterie and Cheese, and Mauritius Poached Shrimp, none of which are actually on the menu.
The $19 “Grilled Wild Boar Tenderloin – Mealie Pap, Chakalaka, Herb-smoked Oil, Micro Cilantro.” The 3.5 ounces of Boar are incredibly tender, delicately seared to a perfect rare and surrounded by mildly spicy South African vegetable relish and creamy Mealie Pap, which is similar to grits and helps soak up all the flavors of the dish. It’s an incredibly flavorful appetizer and as close to a “must try” as you’ll find at a Disney restaurant. Trust me.
I was less enthusiastic about the $18 “North African-spiced Scallops – Herb Chermoula, Curried Feta Crumbles.”
The Scallops were small, gritty, and under-seasoned. The Feta didn’t add as much tang as the kitchen probably intended and the Herb Chermoula looked the part, but also ended up being bland. Very forgettable.
Jiko serves its own cocktail menu:
Several selections are similar or the same as what you’ll find at Victoria Falls. Luckily, there are fewer glowcubes involved at the restaurant. You can always ask that the glowcube be omitted. It will typically result in a $2 savings.
On the beer front, it probably makes the most sense to go with Dogfish Head’s Dragons & Yum Yums on draft. You won’t see that in a lot of places.
It doesn’t look like there are any particularly good values here with the bottle price in red – maybe that Capensis Chardonnay if you’re looking to spend $130 on a bottle. You’re looking at a 250%+ markup on the less expensive wines.
Some more options:
Jiko offers a wine tasting on Wednesdays at 3pm, which I review here. You’ll find the official word, and be able to check for reservations, here. At about $31 per person after tax and tip, I said the cost was “more than reasonable” given the amount of wine, cheese, and knowledge provided.
I tried the $13.50 “African Old Fashioned – Bains African Whiskey, Orange Bitters, Bitters, Madagascar Vanilla.” It was a proficient, sizable cocktail that was a little too sweet and syrupy for my personal tastes. There was enough of it that I cared about that a little less.
Moving right along, the Circle of Life menu offers two entree options for the main course, both of which are “inspired by the eerie elephant boneyard and Simba’s courage to persevere through trials and tribulations.” The second part of this may be a bit of a stretch, but the Bone-In Ribeye with Hibiscus, Nettles, and Fregula is a serious steak entree with a lot more tender meat than it might look in the picture.
This angle probably isn’t helping our assertion that it’s a lot of meat, but it’s probably about a pound of Rib-eye, plated attractively in what is probably close to a pile of bones. The steak itself doesn’t do much to differentiate itself from something that you’d get at Yachtsman or The BOATHOUSE, but that’s probably okay. If you’re looking for a lot of perfectly-grilled, succulent steak, then you’re in business. The main side is Fregula, which is similar to a thick couscous, here mixed in with “nettles,” which basically amounts to a sprinkling of herbs and acts and tastes almost like parsley. The Hibiscus adds that rich pink color that we see on the right – I didn’t pick up much cranberry, but it might have made the pasta salad a little more tart.
Overall, it’s a very good steak dish that’s a “safe” choice for the meat and potatoes crowd. That’s probably the point, though the description probably scares a lot of them away, anyway.
Your other Circle of Life entree choice is the “Lobster Sosatie with Red Shrimp, Squid, Mussels, Fragrant Rice, and Cape Malay Curry.”
This isn’t a substantial departure from a number of dishes that Jiko has served in the past. The Cape Malay Curry is a delicious mix of sweet and spicy and provides a creamy base for all of the rice and seafood. Cumin, Turmeric, Coriander, Pepper, Cinnamon, and Chili are all present, making for a deliciously complex sauce for a considerable amount of seafood. Sosatie refers to the skewers that you’ll find inside of the full size, meaty Lobster Tail that’s grilled to perfection among plenty of Shrimp, Squid, and Mussels with the rice serving to soak up all of the delicious flavors of the curry and seafood. It’s an incredibly rich, delicious entree and something that I would seek out if it weren’t part of the fixed price options.
A similar dish was actually part of the previous menu, when it was “Bo Kaap Malay Seafood Curry – Lobster, Calamari, Red Shrimp, Mussels, Coconut-Curry Sauce, Saffron Rice” for $47.
If you opted for a wine pairing, the Curry is served with one of two Chardonnays, while one of two reds is offered alongside the Rib-eye depending on whether you went Standard or Deluxe. All four tasted like wine.
You can sort of read the rest of the entrees on the menu:
Fortunately, we ordered all of them, so we’ll be able to focus on each individually.
First up, we have the $35 “Peri Peri Chicken – Gujurati-style Potato Salad, Braai Spring Onion Soubise.” The Chicken here has taken many forms over the years, but the chili pepper seasoning remains flavorful after being dusted on top of the juicy chicken. The Gujurati-style Potato Salad leans Indian, though the potatoes in similar sides I’ve enjoyed elsewhere were diced. Sesame seeds play a big role here, adding some crunch and a little bit of a sweet, earthy flavor along with ginger, garlic, cumin, and coriander, not unlike what we saw with the Malay Curry. The colorful Soubise underneath adds a sweet, roasted onion flavor to the dish and a creamy texture that contrasts well with the firmer potatoes. A very good plate overall.
The $49 “Oak-grilled Filet Mignon – Roasted Vegetables, Pomegranate Vinaigrette, Olive Oil Potatoes, South African Red Wine Sauce” is a menu mainstay, for the most part. The steak is sizable, smoky and incredibly tender on top of buttery au gratin potatoes that serve as a nice bed for the meat and the couple pieces of roasted asparagus. The South African Red Wine Sauce is delicious, sweet and tangy and helps to further enhance the flavor of the beef, rather than cover it up. It’s the most in-the-box entree at Jiko, but it’s your safest bet here if some of the other dishes “feel” a little out there.
Next up, we have the $30 “West African Koki Corn – Mushrooms, Avocado, Poblano-Tomatillo Purée, Roasted Red Pepper Sauce.” This is basically an African Tamale, stuffed full of cornmeal and topped with a variety of vegetables, including mushrooms, zucchini, and peppers. I would have liked to have seen more of the sauce come into play. The entirety of the Poblano-Tomatillo Purée and Roasted Red Pepper Sauce is just a spoonful that looks like it’s more of a garnish than anything. The same can be said about the splotch of Avocado to the rear. The Corn itself was flavorful, slightly sweet and surprisingly filling, but the flavor was very one note and I’m not sure the squishy vegetables were necessarily the best accompaniment. Certainly, if you like corn, and tamales in particular, then you’ll be in business. If you’re not, then you might want to go with a pair of appetizers for your entree instead if you’re eating vegetarian. Obviously there aren’t any vegetarian options as part of the Circle of Life. Maybe if Timon and Pumba liked kale smoothies more than bugs.
Next up, we have a lousy picture of the $46 “Mrouzia-style Moroccan Lamb Shank – Parsnip Silk, Root Spinach, Medjool Date Smoor, Pomegranate Glaze.” While it’s not served in the cone-shaped tagine most associated with Moroccan cooking, the hefty Lamb Shank enjoys the same sweet and savory elements here with a fruity Pomegranate Glaze backed up by honey, saffron, and cinnamon spice. The meat is incredibly tender and surprisingly lean to the point where just the threat of a fork seemed to make it fall off the bone. The Parsnip Silk is thin, creamy, and smooth and helps to soak up the flavors of the Lamb along with the mild Root Spinach, which is fresh and almost buttery in its own right. There’s just a little bit of flavor from the Moroccan Date Stew, but it seemed to add even more sugary richness to the Parsnip Silk and whatever bites of Lamb touched it. If you’re in the mood for a lot of meat, but want to try something a little more interesting than the Filet or Rib-eye, then this is the direction that I would go.
Finally, we have the $46 “Sustainable Vulcan-spiced Fish – Black Grouper, Succotash, Green Papaya Atchar, Tomato-Butter Sauce.” I’m not exactly sure what “Vulcan-spiced” means in this context. And please, don’t make a Star Trek joke. The good news is that the Black Grouper is lean and mild with a firm texture similar to Halibut. The Tomato-Butter Sauce is rich and creamy with the Green Papaya Atchar(a) lending a spicy component with a little bit of tropical fruit. As you slide the fish through the sauce, fruit, and vegetables, each bites soaks up the flavors while the fish remains flaky. Those juicy little tomato bursts, which we also saw with the chicken, are interesting too. It’s certainly an attractive, tasty dish that comes together nicely. It would also fit in at most Disney signature restaurants, whether you’re visiting Flying Fish or Narcoossee’s.
A few enhancements are available. There’s our Vulcan Spice again with the Lobster Tail.
The side of $14 “Bobotie Macaroni & Cheese – Four Cheeses, Wagyu, Almonds, Raisins, Cape Malay Curry” is substantial and an Enhancement that I would recommend adding to an entree, particularly if you’re planning on sharing a couple of things.
On the entree front, both of the Circle of Life mains are very good and which one you select probably depends on the mood that you’re in at the time of your meal. I’d look at the Cape Malay Seafood Curry, as it’s a lot more interesting than the Rib-eye, but the steak is certainly a sizable hunk of meat prepared just about as well as you’ll find at a Walt Disney World restaurant. The Lamb and Fish are my two two entree choices from the regular menu.
According to Disney, for the third course, “Hakuna Matata celebrates balance as Simba grows up and learns what is truly needed to successfully lead the Pride lands. This dessert features Caramelized Orange, Chocolate Choux, and Playful Foliage.” The first part of that might be a bit of a stretch, but the cake is presented just about as preciously as possible and more importantly, it marries the flavors of chocolate and orange well. I’m not usually a big chocolate orange guy, but this is a lot more chocolate than it is orange, with just a little bit of citrus zest playing against the chocolate.
The Paul Cluver Riesling Noble Late Harvest will be poured for those with the Standard Wine Pairing, while those springing for Deluxe will get the Klein Constantia Vin de Constance. The Vin de Constance is among the best sweet wines in the world, intense and luscious on the tongue with honey and pear notes that linger long after the sip is complete. With a retail price of $80 for 500ml it makes the Deluxe Pairing look a little better. Still, the pour is two ounces, at most.
Granted, I don’t think you could drink a whole bottle if you tried, but the Klein may be the best wine value at the restaurant. Five a la carte desserts are also available.
Along with after-dinner drinks. It may be worth noting that the price of the 2-ounce pour of Louis XIII is up 15.4% in the last 18 months. I may finally be close to being priced out.
Tea is also offered.
First up, we have the $13 “Malva Pudding – Melktart Ice Cream, Kataifi, Kanu Tuile, Cabernet Gelée.” This is quite the dessert with the Kataifi bird’s nest wrapping around the milk tart ice cream with the Kanu Tuile bird perched on top. As we’ve seen at the Animal Kingdom theme park, the Malva Pudding is much more like spiced cake, soft and moist and topped with a sweet caramel syrup. The Cabernet Gelée adds color to an attractive plating. It’s the most refreshing dessert that we tried.
I could have taken a more appetizing picture of it.
Here we have the “Kilimanjaro – “Valrhona Single Origin Ghana Chocolate Mousse, Pistachio Financier, Pink Peppercorn Meringue, Cacao Nib Crunch, Spiced Pineapple.” Another delicious option.
Finally, we have the seasonal dessert in the $14 “African Drum ‘Beets’ – Coconut-Strawberry-Beet Mousse, Chocolate Cake, Candied Beets, Balsamic Strawberries.” I was expecting this to be a lot more beet-heavy, but it ended up tasting largely like strawberries and chocolate. The orb in the middle is the Chocolate Cake with a thick layer of Coconut-Strawberry-Beet Mousse on top. It was fun to break open the shell of the to see what was inside. That’s not a sentence I typically write. The Balsamic Strawberries surprised – the Balsamic somehow enhances the sweetness of the berries. There was quite the pile of them on top of one of the Candied Beets, which were sliced thin, but packed a ton of sweet and earthy flavor. I really enjoyed it.
Those embarking on the Circle of Life Prix Fixe meal will receive a goody bag at the end of the meal with two little canisters of White Tea along with this booklet.
Some of that seems like a bit of a stretch.
Overall, the Circle of Life menu is potentially a bit unnecessary as we’ve seen a lot of the dishes before. A similar Curry had been on the menu for $47 prior to the change, for example. Since the meal is $65, we need to come away with $18 of value from the appetizer and dessert, which we probably do considering the average dessert costs $12 on its own. The Bone Marrow was part of the Father’s Day prix fixe meal earlier this year, when it was served with salt cream capers, preserved lemons, parsley, and shallots. But the dessert is certainly worth a picture and the take-home gift was a nice touch. There’s definitely some value to be had if each of the components sound good. Whether or not you’re opting for the limited-time menu, you’ll also be able to enjoy the live music just the same.
There is currently no end date for the prix fixe affair. With the movie coming out in theaters on July 19th, I’d expect the menu to be offered through the majority of the summer, perhaps ending around August 31st.