It was a small explosion but with big headlines.
And for the dissidents this was about timing and impact.
They knew the panic they would cause on this pre-Christmas Friday night in one of the busiest parts of the city.
The Cathedral Quarter is one of those places that stands out as being part of the new Belfast.
But last night's bomb – placed by the faction Oglaigh na hEireann (ONH) – was a reminder of this city's old days.
Police responding to a telephone bomb warning were clearing the area when the device went off.
Restaurants, pubs and parties were interrupted. For the dissidents this represents success.
They want to cause fear in the city, images of those old-time security operations. They know there is news in their actions.
Following a recent incident at the Victoria Sqaure complex when a car bomb partially detonated, the police responded with high-visibility security.
It included checkpoints, Land Rovers parked on roads close to the city centre, closing lanes and slowing the traffic flow. Very quickly, new policing can be made to look like old policing.
The dissidents also know there is no such thing as perfect security – there are always gaps and blindspots.
It doesn't take long to place a bomb, what Chief Constable Matt Baggott recently called a "surge" in dissident activity.
In Belfast it includes two recent gun attacks on police vehicles and two city centre devices.
Those actions have put the dissidents in the news at a time of high-level political talks.
US diplomat Richard Haass and talks vice chair Meghan O'Sullivan are working to get agreements on flags, parades and the past – three issues that represent the unfinished business of the peace process.
But whatever is achieved in this negotiation, Haass can't make the dissidents go away.
That is another challenge for another day and for another set of people; a challenge that stretches beyond policing and intelligence into politics and the republican community.
Who can make the dissidents stop? Who can get through to them?
Who can convince them that their actions will change nothing in terms of the big political agreements and compromises?
What they can change, in the here and now with a coded warning and a small bomb, is how this city functions.
That's the story of last night.