Adventurous food lovers will be delighted to discover Tiffins, the new table service fine dining restaurant at the Animal Kingdom Park. A five star restaurant in the middle of a theme park? Yes, yes it is. Be warned that this is a “signature restaurant,” which means two credits per meal for those on the Disney Dining Plan, and premium prices for everyone else. (At this point, Tiffins does not participate in discount plans such as Tables in Wonderland.) If you like Jiko, you’ll love Tiffins.
The name is intended to evoke a sense of the faraway. “Tiffin” was a British expression for a light lunch on a hot afternoon in Colonial India. The expression has evolved and is used in India today to refer to any meal or snack between breakfast and dinner. The word also refers to the set of tiered dishes in which the food is served or carried in India. (The name will ring a bell with Chicagoans – as their city has a well-known Indian restaurant called the Tiffin Box.) The sign in front of Disney’s Tiffins is topped with a row of metal tiffins (otherwise known as Bento boxes), complete with little brass cutlery.
Not unexpectedly, you’ll find many India-inspired items on the menu, but the inspiration at Tiffins is worldwide, with additional influences from Africa and Latin America. You could think of Tiffins as a marriage between Sanaa at the Animal Kingdom Lodge Kidani Village and the Magic Kingdom’s Skipper’s Canteen. Disney compares the ambiance to that of a renowned adventurers’ club (not, unfortunately, the Society of Explorers and Adventurers – the fictional secret society whose members run the Jungle Cruise and have a stake in Big Thunder and a number of other Disney attractions internationally). Tiffins doesn’t have backstory explorers; it has real ones – the Imagineers who designed the Animal Kingdom.
Tiffins is located on Discovery Island, in the middle of the Animal Kingdom, to represent the fact that the restaurant reflects the flavor and background of every compass point at the park. Here you can enjoy the highest levels of Disney cuisine (and pay the highest prices for it, too, of course), while having the opportunity to appreciate and imbibe the greatest amount of information about the park. A carved wooden sign at the check-in desk welcomes you to Tiffins and advises, “We hope that these works of art add to your understanding and appreciation of the design and vision of Disney’s Animal Kingdom.” If the tone is a bit self-congratulatory, the Imagineers might be forgiven – after all, they have created something special here at the Animal Kingdom.
It would be hard for no touch of vanity to find its way in, when Imagineers pay tribute to and seek inspiration from … themselves! Disney, in reverent tones, informs guests that the artwork at Tiffins has been inspired by ” actual notes and field sketches of the Imagineers.” You’ll find their beautiful, detailed artwork, sculptures, glass cases with photos, and sketches throughout the restaurant. So dining at Tiffins is a glimpse into the nebula which spawned the soul of the Animal Kingdom park. Not that Imagineers should be encouraged to take themselves too seriously! (You’re thinking of the portrait over the mantle in the Village Shop in New Fantasyland right now, aren’t you? But that guy is just a head honcho, not an Imagineer.)
At Tiffins, you’ll dine in one of three galleries (dining rooms). The Trek Gallery was inspired by the Imagineers’ travels in Asia. Here you’ll see a fresco of three tigers that looks just like the paintings on the Maharaja Jungle Trek. A dramatic three-dimensional prayer flag sculpture reaches out its arms in a wide embrace from a corner, the flags looking as though they were suddenly frozen as they were waving in the wind. The Safari Gallery is based on Imagineer adventures in Africa and includes a miniature Baobab Tree that will remind guests of Kilimanjaro Safaris. There is also a Wall of African Textures as well as a wall of photographs – some taken in Africa, some taken in the Animal Kingdom Park. The fact that it’s hard to tell which are from the real Africa is a compliment to the realism of the park’s design. The Grand Gallery (the largest of the three dining rooms) focuses on the animals in the park, with a row of five pillars formed of carved animals creating a dramatic screen (the poles were repurposed from their original home in Camp Minnie Mickey which has since been closed). The Lantern Wall displays animals (an elephant, a monkey, a gorilla, birds, and a rhino) made of little panes of milky glass, dramatically lit from within – resembling those that will be showcased in the Rivers of Light show.
If you dine in the Trek Gallery, you’ll “trek” through the Nomad Lounge to reach your table. The Nomad Lounge has a wraparound deck with waterfront views, but the air conditioning may draw you inside. Inside or out, the Nomad has wide, comfortable chairs and, like Tiffins, is dedicated to the theme of travel. Guests are encouraged to write down their own travel memories on hanging tags to be shared with others.
Tiffins menus were designed to resemble leather-bound travel diaries, beckoning you within to delve into a new world of international cuisine. The rustic cloth napkins, thickly woven, increase the sense of both atmosphere and luxury. The African, Indian, and Asian music playing softly in the background will also help set the tone for your culinary expedition.
Complimentary slices of pomegranate focaccia bread are served with a dish of dipping oil flavored darkly with molasses, salt, and vinegar. Meanwhile, the signature bread service from the appetizer menu is actually served in a set of metal tiffins! The pomegranate focaccia is joined here with naan and lavash and is served with four dipping sauces – pomegranate olive oil, Harissa yogurt, Zhough yogurt, and black-eyed pea hummus.
If you’re looking for something different in dining, you will absolutely find it here. Octopus is one of the exotic choices. You can also choose head-on prawns (the sustainable fish has its head still on, too!) chermoula-rubbed chicken, or beef short ribs that have marinated for 72 hours. If you book a dinner, it can be part of the Alive with Magic dinner package that includes reserved seating for the new Jungle Book show. Watch for a similar arrangement when Rivers of Light opens. If you’re not sure how adventurous you are, you could come at lunch time and try the “Taste of Tiffins.” At $28 for your choice of two mini entree items, this is also the most economical path to a Tiffins foray.