Meet a mixer: Harish Mesta, cocktail creator at Solera

by | Sep 30, 2022 | Opinion

In the first of a series, Denise Irvine discusses banana fusions, dehydrated hibiscus and barrel-aged rum with Harish Mesta, mixologist at Solera, Mt Maunganui

Harish Mesta doesn’t miss a beat behind the beautifully fitted bar at Solera, reaching for the likes of gin, bourbon, rum, syrups, juices and herbs as he stirs, mixes and shakes, blending his unique creations and classics. All the while, he’s talking to customers about the flavours they love, getting to know them and their palate so he can produce winning combinations that have people coming back for more. This, he says, is the true essence of hospitality.


Who are you, what’s your role?

I’m from Goa, in southern India but I grew up on the west coast and I’ve come to mixology via plenty of study and hands-on experience. I’m the cocktail creator at Solera, I run the bar, and all my spare time is spent creating drinks and experimenting with flavours. I make my own cocktail syrups and our zero proof gin, and I’m constantly fine-tuning ingredients to keep the flavours real, seasonal and
exotic, with some East-West fusion.

What was your pathway to Solera?

I have a hospitality degree in catering science and hotel management. When I finished college I went to Penang in Malaysia and worked in large hotels. I’ve done everything, including some cooking. I became drawn to bartending, and was always observing the mixologists. When I returned to India I studied bartending and mixology, worked again in hotels and then a job making drinks in a nightclub to get the speed I needed. I spent a year in the US as a bartender in big establishments, and came to New Zealand in 2019 to be head bartender at Skyline in Rotorua. I play beach volleyball and visited Mt Maunganui for sport, and the opportunity came up to work with Solera owner Nick Potts. It’s
been a great move. I do my own cocktail creations as well as classics, martinis and non-alcoholic cocktails.

I like it when patrons … challenge me to make new drinks, maybe describing flavours they love or a beautiful cocktail they’ve had somewhere. It is great when they appreciate the effort and the love that goes into the work. A Mexican customer was the inspiration for a new Holy Guacamole cocktail using avocado, coriander shrub, and dehydrated hibiscus on top. And a Spanish customer helped me name our Orto (vege garden) cocktail, which is our twist on a Bloody Mary. I always try to remember our customers’ faces and names, share ideas, learn what they really like, and build loyal relationships.

Something funny that’s happened at the bar?

There were six customers one night who all worked in hospitality. I suggested a Sleeping Giant cocktail (sake, pandan syrup, lemon juice, ginger juice and candied pandan on top). They all ordered it and I said that the six drinks would be on me if they could guess four of the ingredients. They didn’t come up with a single one!


Your best-sellers?

Currently, on creations it is Coconut Meringue with charred coconut, Tequila, Limoncello and meringue, and Smooth Velvet with Maker’s Mark Bourbon, Amaro Montenegro, yuzu and grapefruit. Classics stars are Margarita and Espresso Martini.

Right now, I’m drinking … well, this is driven by my job and the need for constant research, so when I go out I mostly drink low-alcohol or no-alcohol cocktails because I want to try as many flavours as I can. You can’t do that if you’re drinking the ones with high alcohol content.

And experimenting with?

I’m playing around with a fusion of banana puree and barrel-aged rum. I’d like to do something with tamarind puree, I’ve done some work on it but I’m not satisfied, there is a fine balance of flavours needed with tamarind. I’m also working on refreshing fruity and citrusy flavours for summer, using yuzu, melon, fresh lemons, pineapple. And rosemary, kawakawa and lavender-infused syrup. Keeping it simple and seasonal.

My ambition is to … have my own cocktail bar, one day. A very small after-dinner place where people could enjoy drinks flavours from around the world. This is in the future. I will be behind a bar for as many years as I can. I love what I do.

A word of advice for young mixologists?

Know your customers before you make them a drink, talk to them about flavours they like: savoury, sweet, citrusy? Do your market research before you put a cocktail menu together; start simple but always with high standards and fresh ingredients. And get as much training as you can.

Lastly, a must-do at Mt Manganui? Climb Mauao (Mt Maunganui) then come to Solera for a really nice cocktail and dinner.

Solera, 165 Maunganui Rd, Mt Maunganui, open Tues-Sat 4pm-midnight

Words and images: Denise Irvine


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Denise Irvine

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