Located at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, Jiko transports you to the heart of Africa with its vibrant spices, crackling wood-burning ovens, and a delicious blend of traditional African wines and cuisine, making it the perfect place for an intimate night out with friends or family. In an effort to bring life to this sometimes-overlooked signature restaurant, as well as insert The Lion King into every nook and cranny of Walt Disney World, the limited-time The Circle of Life: Nants’ Ingonyama progressive dining experience was recently introduced.
The new three-course prix fixe dining experience took off this past weekend and we were there to taste all the new dishes, take in the sounds, and try our best not to clear the savanna after every meal.
Jiko Menu – Featuring The Circle of Life: Nants’ Ingonyama Limited-Time Prix Fixe Menu
Even if you’re here just for the Circle of Life menu, the regular menu, including appetizers, enhancements, and the usual entrees are also still available. (I probably should’ve stuck with the fan-favorite filet and mac and cheese here and come out feeling more fulfilled, but alas, someone had to try the new menu.)
Pricing for the Circle of Life prix fixe menu is $65 per person, tax and gratuity not included, with the option to add your choice of two levels of wine pairings at an additional cost ($22 for Standard, $29 for Deluxe.)
Here’s how Disney describes this progressive dining experience:
The menu features dishes inspired by The Circle of Life: Nants’ Ingonyama, a story celebrating Simba’s journey through life. Each dish follows our lion prince as he grows up, highlighting each stage of his life through unique flavors and spices.
You’ll start your meal off with the “I Just Can’t Wait to be King” starter – 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.
Moving on to the main event: Be Prepared. Choose from two entrées: Bone-In Ribeye with hibiscus, nettles, and fregula or Lobster Sosatie with red shrimp, squid, mussels, and fragrant rice. These dishes are inspired by the eerie elephant boneyard and Simba’s courage to persevere through trials and tribulations.
And 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.
Finally, finish off the evening with “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” and reflect on your journey with a selection of friandeses and teas to cap off your meal.
Because nothing speaks to a lion cub’s troubled childhood like clams and playful foliage.
A colorful souvenir paper menu and booklet is also handed out to further hash out the complex storyline behind each dish.
It’s worth noting that as the dinner progresses, talented musicians tour the restaurant playing vibrant African melodies as well as live performances of the movie soundtrack.
And now, back to the meal. We’ll start out with wine pairings.
Jiko – Circle of Life: Nants’ Ingonyama Wine Pairings
Paul Cluver Gewurztraminer, Stellenbosch
We here at WDWNT are not wine connoisseurs. Per Decanter,
Such a reliable wine from the experienced hand of Paul Cluver. There is some residual sugar (10.3 grams per litre), although it is not cloying. The wine is elegant with a nice intensity, showing very attractive notes of apricot and peachy fruit, with some lychee and hints of rose petal. Love the freshness and vivacity.
Tokara “Reserve Collection” Chardonnay, Stellenbosch
Per Tokara, the winery that produces this award-winning South African wine:
This 100% Chardonnay is made from grapes grown on Tokara’s Stellenbosch farm on the slopes of the Simonsberg. Aromas of fresh grapefruit, grilled pineapple, star anise and toasted brioche emanate from the glass. The wine enters the palate with fresh citrus flavours leading to a creamy mid-palate with flavours of vanilla, star anise and toasted almond.
Klein Constantia Vin de Constance, Constantia
Wine Spectator describes this, another award-winning wine, as:
Rich and unctuous, yet superbly racy, this offers a gorgeous panoply of dried apricot, fig, mango and quince flavors, underscored by a lively blood orange note and backed by a long, ginger and green tea filled finish.
The pours were a little light for the price, especially given that we opted for the deluxe wine pairing option, but as the descriptions above might tell you, these were all truly excellent wines.
Jiko – Circle of Life: Nants’ Ingonyama Appetizers
Jiko Bread Service – Complimentary
The bread here, like all breads across Animal Kingdom Lodge, are delicious. These sweet potato rolls are golden and flecked with spices and seeds to give them tang and texture. They’re served with a delicious whipped honey butter.
Young Cedar Creek Clam Malata
with New Potatoes, Pomegranate, Bone Marrow
The bone marrow is the star of the dish. It’s really flavorful and well-seasoned, not to mention super tender. The flavors here are heavy on the garlic.
The clams are really forgettable, though, and not particularly good. Not to mention most of them were closed, which is usually a sign that they aren’t good for eating, but the bone marrow itself was worth it.
Jiko – Circle of Life: Nants’ Ingonyama Entrees
Signal Hill: Lobster Sosatie
with Red Shrimp, Squid, Mussels, Fragrant Rice, and Cape Malay Curry
This dish is absolutely fantastic, and packed with a ton of seafood. There’s a fully de-shelled lobster tail with a bit of the tail left on for flare, as well. The broth is spicy and flavorful, and really compliments all the seafood flavors.
This is a rather large portion, with a bed of yellow rice underneath the lobster to really round out the meal and sop up all the sauce. I highly recommend this dish.
The Boneyard: Bone-In Rib-Eye
with Hibiscus, Nettle, and Fregula
This is another massive portion.
Some pieces are better than others, given that some are tender while others are more chewy and gristly, but that’s mainly because you’re getting a full slab of meat.
That being said, this is another huge portion of food that’s also well cooked and prepared. If you’ve come to Jiko hungry, this is the thing to get.
And yes, that is a smearing of blood on the plate. Pretty epic.
Jiko – Circle of Life: Nants’ Ingonyama Desserts
Jungle Strut: Caramelized Orange and Chocolate Choux with Playful Foliage
I really didn’t like the first bite of this dessert as the orange part has an odd consistency to it at times, but it grew on me with each bite, and the rich chocolate flavor from the bottom layer evened out the delicate orange flavors from above.
Is it the best dessert at Jiko? No. Does it match up to anything at Sanaa next door? No, because pretty much every dessert on that menu is a knockout. (Honestly, it’s worth a trip down there just for dessert.)
But if you’re getting the prix fixe package, you won’t be disappointed with this, especially if the appetizer and entrees are down your alley.
Jiko – Circle of Life: Nants’ Ingonyama Gifts and Teas
“Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” Friandeses
Okay, so first a bit of background. If you’ve ever been to Jiko, you’re presented with these delicious sugar-dusted chocolate balls at the very end of your meal as a sweet send-off.
However, if you’re participating in the Circle of Life menu, you get these gummy lions instead.
That’s right, you get fruit jellies that are on par with a kids snack. We really just wanted the chocolate balls. They’re far more sophisticated, at least. These are the equivalent of a sour gummy candy. Besides the fact that they’re shaped like lions, there isn’t really anything special to them.
As a sweet parting gift, guests get to keep the separate Circle of Life menu and are given a glass canister of White Wildberry tea, which includes organic white peony, raspberry, blueberry, and rose petals.
A nice touch.
For $65, we’d say the dining experience is probably worth it. The dessert was the only weak part of the meal, really. Overall, Jiko has really slipped in recent years. Your money is better spent going to Sanaa, or even any other non-signature restaurant. You’ll have a better meal at a better price.
Still, the excellent service and wine list at Jiko remains their strong point. They have the best servers anywhere on property, and the wines are pretty unrivaled, for the most part.
As far as the dining experience as a whole, the live musicians are fantastic, and it’s an offering that should remain even after the experience is over. The musicians are very talented, and added a special feeling to the whole experience at Jiko. They took their time at every table and seemed to be having lots of fun interacting with guests. It’d be great if they stuck around, adding to the overall musical experience Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge seems to provide for guests throughout the resort.